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Who is your Favourite Guest Rebel?

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Nov 2019 Fanfic Challenge
purplecleric
‘Oh, come on, Blake! This is not something you do by numbers, not even highly sophisticated ones. This is an area that has remained the exclusive province of specialists.’ Avon - Breakdown

The word prompt this month is … NUMBER

More than a simple value. It could be part of a Countdown, the answer to a mystery en route to Destiny, a list of charges, the designation of a planet or the code to unlock a door. What will your number represent?

-----

The first line in a story is important; it draws the reader in by arousing their curiosity, making them want to know more. The last line in a story is also important, especially in very short stories where it can be the big reveal, the punchline, the twist or the heart-clench that leads the story to linger in a reader’s mind.

For the second challenge, use this famous last line to end your ficlet:

Are there any questions?

(from The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood)
 
stormypetrel
All right, I admit I had a bit of this scribbled as the possible beginning of something else (I can’t write that quickly), but I thought it would fit if I tidied it up a bit. It still reads more like an opening to me... I hope that doesn’t matter...

***


“So that’s Xaranar.” Dayna, to whom a Federation world was still a novelty, studied the image on screen with interest. “Do you think Groff’s wife is still there?”

“I don’t imagine she’ll have gone anywhere else,” Tarrant answered.

“Not if she’s still waiting for her husband to return,” agreed Cally.

“We have no evidence to suggest she’s that stupid.” Avon moved towards the teleport anyway. “Tarrant! You’re the one who was determined this trip was necessary.”

“Shouldn’t Cally come too? She’d explain the Thaarn best.”

“Oh, I don’t know...” Cally’s protest was cut short by Avon.

“Why not? I’m sure it will be a great comfort to this woman that her husband’s death came about at the whim of a creature escaped from an Auron fairytale.”

Cally opened her mouth to answer, then shut it again and followed them.

“You are right, Avon. Perhaps it would be better if I came and helped to explain,” she agreed.

Dayna and Vila were left on the flight deck.

“What about us?” Dayna asked. Vila shrugged. “What about us?” She dashed after the landing party; Vila followed more slowly.

“No doubt you are about to give us a pressing reason to explain why you should come too.” Avon paused in fastening a teleport bracelet around his wrist. Dayna, treating this as an invitation, took one of her own; Tarrant reached to stop her.

“What about the teleport?” he asked.

“What about it?”

“If we need to return in a hurry I’d like to be sure we can.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” demanded Vila. He was already sitting behind the controls; now he leant back and folded his arms. “No; forget it. If you don’t want me doing it, there’s always Orac. I’ll go and get him.” He walked out before anyone could protest; Tarrant found both Avon and Cally regarding him in a manner which almost made him regret speaking.

“There.” Vila marched back in, plonking Orac down. “Orac, Tarrant wants you to operate the teleport.”

“A waste of my resources,” commented Orac peevishly.

“Just do it, Orac,” said Avon.

“Then Vila can come with us,” added Cally.

“Eh?” Vila blinked, surprised. “What do you want me for?”

“A change of scene will do you good,” Cally told him firmly. He looked dubious.

“I’m not so sure. Look what happened when Orac decided he wanted a change of scene. Being sucked into a black hole didn’t do me any good, did it? I knew it wouldn’t, right from the start...”

“An artificial black hole,” Avon interrupted.

“And you can hardly blame us for not realising you had concussion straight away,” said Dayna reasonably. “It’s quite hard to tell the difference.”

“Oh, very funny.”

“Come on, Vila.” Cally’s encouragement produced a resigned sigh from Vila.

“I suppose it can’t be worse than last time.”

“If you can refrain from passing out across the flight deck afterwards, we’ll consider it a success,” Avon assured him.

“But what about the ship?” argued Tarrant.

“Orac will tell us if there’s any danger. It will also operate the teleport; and that is all. Understood, Orac? No little experiments of your own, unless you want me to try an experiment on you.”

“Very well,” Orac complied sulkily.

“Then get on with it. We go, we deliver this message, and we leave.” Avon stepped into the teleport bay, then, realising nobody had followed, gave them a querying look.

“Well?” he demanded. “Are there any questions?”
 
stormypetrel
And for my second offering... can you tell I still can’t get out much?

***


“What is it?” Cally looked curiously at the box Jenna was studying.

“It’s an Amagon puzzle box.” Jenna laid it down on the table. “It must have been Tarvin’s. He used to keep his most valuable possessions in one; he said it was more secure.”

“And he carried it about with him?” queried Blake, coming in in time to overhear this.

“Apparently.” Jenna smiled as he and Cally leaned in for a closer look. “You won’t get it open.”

“But it’s just a wooden box!” protested Cally.

“No; look.” Blake pointed to the rods sticking out from its sides. “It’s got some sort of primitive locking mechanism.”

“A coded number sequence.” They all turned as Avon spoke, having been too engrossed to notice him come on to the flight deck.

“You’ve seen one before, Avon?”

“I’ve heard of them.” He picked the box up, studied it, and indicated small symbols drawn on the ends of the rods. “If you push these rods through the correct number of notches, the box will open. The code will give the numbers; then they just need to be applied in the right order.”

“Are you going to break the code, then?” inquired Jenna. “I’m sure we’d all like to see what Tarvin considered his most precious possession.”

Avon considered for a moment. “If you insist. It is just a simple exercise in logic.”

***


“This number sequence,” said Gan, after several frustrating hours had passed. Avon stopped and glared at him, daring him to carry on. “Why bother when you could just smash the box? It’s only wood.”

“And smash whatever is in it at the same time?”

“You aren’t getting anywhere,” pointed out Jenna. Avon’s expression grew blacker. “Maybe you need a clue.”

“I hardly think it likely that your Amagon friend will return from the dead to provide one.”

Jenna’s eyes flashed. “He was no friend of mine. If you’re insinuating...”

“Nobody was saying anything,” interrupted Blake hurriedly. “Are you really no further on, Avon?”

“No,” said Avon, through gritted teeth. “Although I might have more success if I was allowed to concentrate.”

This time they took the hint.

***



The Amagon puzzle box remained puzzling. It accompanied Avon about the ship all evening, and returned to the flight deck with him the following morning. He looked tired and irritable; the box looked untouched.

“I am beginning to see why Tarvin felt it was secure,” remarked Cally.

Avon glanced at her coldly. His temper did not appear to improve when Vila appeared, stopped dead at the sight of the unopened box, and inquired,

“What’s that, then?”

“I should have thought even your limited intelligence could recognise a box.”

“A locked box,” added Jenna.

“Avon says it needs a number sequence to open it,” put in Gan helpfully.

Vila looked mystified. “A number sequence?”

“A logic puzzle,” said Avon shortly. “It is necessary to break the code before the box can be opened.”

“Oh. You haven’t broken it, then?” Vila grinned.

“Not yet.”

“So what’s in the box?”

“According to Jenna, Tarvin’s valuables,” explained Blake. “Not that we’re sure what they are.”

“Then we’d better find out!” Vila rested his fingers on the edge of the box’s lid, and casually began to wiggle the first of the locking rods. Silence fell as the lid slid back fractionally; deliberately ignoring his fascinated audience, he carried on until the box lay open before them.

“Doesn’t look very valuable to me,” he remarked, reaching in and withdrawing a solitary key. Everyone stared.

“Vila. How...”

“Any reasonably talented person could have done it.” Vila gave them all a look of calculated innocence. “Are we having breakfast?” He dropped the key and cheerfully headed for the doorway.

Vila!”
 
GanMiniMe
Servalan sat back and considered the short message. She was satisfied; it was cryptic enough to arouse interest, but easy enough to decipher. She then turned to the viewscreen and carefully pushed several buttons in a complicated pattern. She knew she wouldn’t have long to wait for a reply; she had made sure that the other party would be keen to speak with her.

After a few seconds a woman’s face appeared. She was young and would have been lovely but for her mouth, which was pinched in a pitiless smirk.

“Good evening, Commissioner,” she said in a faintly mocking tone.
“I have an assignment for you,” answered Servalan, deliberately not wasting time on pleasantries.

“You still haven’t paid me in full for the last one,” said the woman, slightly sulkily.
“An oversight on my part; and one which I will be happy to remedy when we meet. And-“ she added hastily, “of course the down payment for this next job, which I can assure you will be most generous.” Her correspondant paused expectantly, so she continued.

“This time there will be more than one to dispense with. I have taken the liberty of transmitting the details of our rendezvous via a supposedly secure channel which I happen to know has been compromised.” The fixed smile on the screen seemed to harden slightly.
“Perhaps I have never made my method of operating clear to you.” she said. “I prefer to use this channel- only this channel- because I can be sure that it is secure. I find it easier to work when my movements cannot be traced.”
“Surely nobody would wish to look for you?” Asked the older woman silkily, her eyes the picture of innocence. There was no reply.

“As it happens, I am counting on my message being intercepted. If I am right, your targets may come right to us. They are tenacious enough to be an irritation, but foolish enough to walk straight into a trap. Especially one where I am the bait. It is the least I can do; after all, being a multiple contract, you may find it slightly more challenging.” The woman did not look happy.
“I do not need your help.” She said petulantly.
“Oh, of course not,” said Servalan lightly. “But why make it any harder for yourself?” She dropped the friendly note. “I will give you all of the information you need when we meet. I share your mistrust of communications channels.”

There was a pause. Then the woman said “Since you have chosen to broadcast details of our meeting, perhaps you could give me the message in person?”
Servalan smiled and recited.

“Utiliser to Cancer, Utiliser to Cancer. Domo the ninth, Five subjects.

Are there any questions?”
 
Anniew
Oh, Stormy Petrel, two excellent fics but I LOVED the Amazon puzzle box. I’m tempted to hope your knee doesn’t improve too quickly ( but that would be mean, mean, mean!)

And GanMiniMe. - lovely to have another contributor. I enjoyed your fics for last months challenge very much and your Cancer story is extremely well characterised. I’d love to know if Cancer affected that elaborate hair do between jobs, or only in Assassin mode.
Just because I can't sing doesn't mean I won't.
 
GanMiniMe
Thanks Anniew, I’m glad and very relieved that at least one person likes it!! Sci-fi writing is something I didn’t think I’d ever have the courage to attempt. And I’d like to think that Cancer did habitually wear that insane totem-pole hairstyle. If she had time to do that and change and put her face on in such a short time she must have been either very well-practised or a ninja!!

And Stormypetrel, I also loved the puzzle box one. Even as I was reading it I wondered why they didn’t get Vila to do it!! Nice to see him practising his talents. But I’m hoping that maybe the key will be another story?
 
stormypetrel
GanMiniMe- I liked that. It’s easy to forget the potential for interesting backstory in the face of Piri’s screamingSmile Glad you plucked up courage to pick up your pen, as it were.

As for why they didn’t immediately hand the puzzle box to Vila- well, it rather depends on whether you’re thinking of it as a number puzzle or a lock, I suppose. Once you stop trying to be logical about it... But the shortcut to opening such things will remain a secret between Vila and I (yes, I know how he did it!)

Annie- thank you, I think! There are worse reasons to have a stiff leg wished on oneWink
 
Anniew
“They don’t add up.”

Avon, tinkering with a component to improve Liberator’s weapons’ system, ignored the interruption, as did Jenna and Gan.

“They really don’t add up,” Vila repeated insistently.

Distracted, Avon’s hand slipped as he manipulated the probe. “What?” he barked, loud enough for Jenna to jump.

“Are you going deaf or something? I told you. They don’t add up.”

What don’t?” This time the shout was loud enough to bring Cally to the flight deck.

“Is something amiss?” she asked soothingly.

Avon faced her, breathing heavily. “The moron seems to think something’s amiss,” he explained. “We are attempting, unsuccessfully I might add, to ascertain what exactly that might be.”

Vila assumed his most guileless expression and smiled at Cally.

“It’s the numbers, see. They don’t add up.”

“Yes, we got that far,” Jenna commented wryly,

“What numbers are you talking about, Vila?” Gan enquired, valiantly trying to bring him to some sort of point.

“Our numbers.”

“Explain yourself, idiot,” snapped Avon, pointing his probe at Vila in what was, unambiguously, a threatening manner.

“Charming.” Vila turned his back on him and addressed the more sympathetic Cally.” You see I’ve been asking myself why are we called Blake’s 7.”

“We’re not. Are we?”

“Well we were called that on that News Vid reporting our attack on Centero.”

Avon screwed his face into his most pained expression. “What diseased mind conjured up that soubriquet?” he demanded.

“Or even that name!” agreed Vila. “It’s not very dashing. The Magnificent Rebels. Now that would be a name.”

“Blake’s 7,” mused Gan. “I rather like it.”

“Yes, but why seven?” persisted Vila.

“Well, there are seven of us,” Jenna was visibly irritated with the whole discussion.

“Use your fingers if you have to,” Avon advised. “Seven. Got it? if you include Zen, of course. Which I don’t.

“I can count alright Avon, but even if there are seven of us, we ought to be known as Blake’s 6. The seven includes Blake right? So if we’re Blake’s 7 ... well in fact we’re only six.

“If we include Zen,” Cally added.

“Which Avon doesn’t. Blake’s 5 then, really.”

“Seven is a special number on Auron. We consider that if there are seven people together, then they can achieve wonderful things.”

“Well that’s something to look forward to Cally. If Blake doesn’t get us killed before we achieve them.”

“I have no plans to do so today, Avon,” Blake remarked cheerfully, as he entered the flight deck. “What are we all to look forward to?”

“Vila was wondering why the News’ Vids were calling us Blake’s 7,” Jenna explained.

“When there’s only five of us, if we don’t include you and Zen,” added Gan.

“I was objecting to us being Blake’s anything,” Avon grumbled.

“And I was telling everyone that it’s probably because seven is a special number.”

“I see,” said their Leader. “Well Vila, it’s pretty simple really. We’re called Blake’s 7 because ...”

He paused dramatically.

“Blake’s 6 sounds silly. And Blake’s 5 even sillier.”
Edited by Anniew on 08 November 2019 14:32:36
Just because I can't sing doesn't mean I won't.
 
JustBrad
“Is everyone ready? Let’s begin.“

“Kerr Avon understood numbers. Numbers were real. Numbers were reliable. Numbers never lied, never exaggerated, never overreacted, never defied logic, never operated on blind hope, and could never be manipulated. “

Unlike some people Avon could name.“

“The only thing that could go wrong was an irrational response to a rational situation.”

Just like some people Avon could name.”

“Any fault lay in the so called Human Element, which translated in Avon’s mind to people who ignored the numbers.”

“Roj Blake understood people. He had nothing against numbers, or logic for that matter, but numbers were cold, static, theoretical. People were not numbers. People properly motivated and led could overcome a larger number of people who were not. Blake trusted people for the same reasons Avon did not. People could be manipulated, or as Blake would probably put it, motivated.”

“I’m sure you all understand how Blake’s mind worked, but do you understand how Avon’s mind worked?”

One young officer tentatively raised his hand. “Are you saying he played percentages, Colonel Carnell?”

Carnell tilted his head as if considering the question. “A primitive, but not entirely inaccurate assessment. Because of Blake’s faith in people, and Avon’s faith in numbers and logic, you might think that Blake would be easier to run than Avon, but Blake understood motivation, or as we might call it, manipulation. He wasn't up to our standards, but he could recognize our game, whereas Avon..."

As the question hung in the air, another young officer tentatively raised his hand. “Whereas Avon trusted numbers, which is a type of logic, therefore you can alter the logic by altering the percentages…”

Carnell interrupted, “Or by appearing to alter the percentages, which is much easier.”

The young officer flustered, “Yes, I meant appear to alter the percentages, then you can manipulate the man whose mind works on logic alone.”

Carnell shook his head. “No one’s mind works on logic alone. Particularly someone who is under stress because their percentages constantly appear to be changing. And I emphasize the difference between altering the percentages and appearing to alter the percentages because…?”

Every young psycho strategist cadet knew the answer to this one, and they all proudly replied in unison, “Because in our business Perception IS Reality.”

Carnell smiled his predatory smile. “Indeed.”

One young cadet ventured, “Sir, are you saying that our department…”

Carnell’s smile vanished. “My department, cadet, you are not a psycho strategist yet.”

“Sir, are you saying that your department had something to do with what happened between Blake and Avon?”

Carnell spread his hands. “What is the first rule of the psycho strategist?”

The class answered as one, “Always take full credit for anything that goes right.”

Carnell’s smile reappeared. “Any questions?”

.
Edited by JustBrad on 08 November 2019 16:28:22
There was a young man
From Cork who got Limericks
And Haikus confused.
 
Anniew
Ooh that’s a brilliant story Brad.
Just because I can't sing doesn't mean I won't.
 
stormypetrel
Annie- LOL, it all makes sense now Blake’s explained it!

Brad, you have just confirmed my belief that Carnell gives me the creeps.
 
JohnMax
Oh some corking entries already this month.

Carnell always makes me thing of an evil Hari Seldon! And the "Blakes' 7" conundrum... pipped to the post Smile (and darn it, aren't there always three pursuit ships just when you don't need them!)
_____________________________
"Imagine you're standing on the edge of a cliff."
"As long as you're not standing behind me."
 
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