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Ficlet Challenges - May 2015 - Part Two

FICLET CHALLENGES - MAY 2015 - PART TWO

Set by Purplecleric



The challenge was to complete the following scene:
He was in real trouble now. Vila took another look and felt the panic rise. How was he going to explain this? More importantly, would he live long enough to explain? His eyes darted about looking for somewhere to hide.


BRAD
He was in real trouble now. Vila took another look and felt the panic rise. How was he going to explain this? More importantly, would he live long enough to explain? His eyes darted about looking for somewhere to hide.

Real Trouble? That’s a laugh, what would they do to him worse than the predicament he was already in? His first instinct was to hide. No good, he’d tried to hide. It hadn’t worked. It couldn’t work. This time, hiding meant death. He was terrified. He was a coward, and he knew it, but what happens to a cornered coward when the option to run and hide is taken away? No one ever thought of that, did they? He ran back to the flight deck and studied the display. It looked better. Would it work? It had to work. Orac had said it would work. Orac. It was Orac’s fault really, not that anyone would believe him, not him, not Vila. It had to work, but then, on the bright side, if it didn’t, he wouldn’t have to explain.

Tarrant would believe him. Tarrant would probably even laugh and say, ‘Well done.’

Dayna would be a problem, but maybe not too much of a problem. Maybe it would be all right if it had worked. It had to work. It would be all right.

Soolin… Soolin would be a problem.

He ran back to the cargo hold. He was in real trouble now. Vila took another look at the empty air lock and felt the panic rise. How was he going to explain this? More importantly, would he live long enough to explain? It was simple maths, really. Vila weighed seventy-three kilos. Avon weighed seventy-one kilos, but Avon and Orac together… He felt the familiar tug on his gut, like missing a step and falling an inch, that indicated he was being teleported. The Scorpio flight deck materialised around him.

Tarrant was there. “How did you do it? How did you achieve escape velocity? And where is Orac?”

Dayna was there. “And where is the Tachyon Funnel?”

Soolin was there. “And where is Avon?”

Vila’s eyes darted about looking for somewhere to hide.

***


LITTLESUE AND LURENA
He was in real trouble now. Vila took another look and felt the panic rise. How was he going to explain this? More importantly, would he live long enough to explain? His eyes darted about looking for somewhere to hide.
But there was nowhere. This time they had him. He knew that this time there would be no further warnings.

His efforts to lead a life not controlled by his desire to pick pockets or open the locked safe door had come to naught. The powers that be had tried so hard to ‘change’ him, adjust what made him tick. All attempts had proved fruitless and now he was standing on the mezzanine, trying to think of a plausible excuse to explain what he, a lowly Delta Grade, was doing here in the zone exclusive to the Alpha Grades.

Admittedly, he shouldn’t have ventured through that half-opened door, but it was so tempting; a chance in a lifetime to see how the other half lived. He hadn’t even known about that door, but he had: the man who'd rushed past him; the man, who without even checking to see if anyone was watching, overrode the complex computer codes and opened the door leading into the conduit that had led Vila to this concourse.

Vila could see the squad of soldiers approaching him at a run. He thought it best not to resist, not to try and use his sharp wit to extricate himself, or even feign dull wits. That was what had kept him out of trouble for so long; pretending to be a lowly Delta Grade, while his true intellect was hidden from view.
They were closing in on him. The gems in the clasp of his sweaty palms would be his undoing. How to explain…

But the men ran right past him, as if he were invisible. They had other prey. Vila could only pity whoever that poor soul was. Then he heard the commotion. They had caught him. Vila struggled to see who it was, but decided it was safer, and wiser, to try and blend in with the bland surroundings; to be just a passing innocent.

The squad of soldiers made their way back, this time with their quarry in their midst. Vila couldn’t quite see who it was, but he resembled the man who had opened the gateway into this other world. He seemed sullen, downcast, dejected.

“Well, what have we here?”

Vila froze. His lax concentration had condemned him. “I…”

“Been busy, have we?” The faceless trooper pointed to the gems in Vila’s hands.

“Um…these?”

“Name?”

“Restal; Vila Restal.”

A few moments passed as the guard passed on that snippet of information to his superiors. And all the while, Vila was watching as the group of other soldiers, with their prisoner, disappeared off the mezzanine and, for that poor soul, an uncertain future.

“I think you’ve chanced your luck just one too many times…”

“Eh…” Vila said absently.

“So, you’re interested in the fate of your friend, are you?”

“Friend?” Vila asked, his thoughts abruptly pulled into focus. “He’s not… I mean, I don’t even know…”

“Well, not to worry. You and he will soon be together again. A nice long trip to reminisce and discuss how you both ended up on a prison ship bound for some dismal penal colony.”

“What? They can’t do that?”

The faceless guard took the gems from Vila’s hands. He leaned closer to Vila’s pale face. “As a matter of fact; they can.”

***


PURPLECLERIC - Walk a Mile
He was in real trouble now. Vila took another look and felt the panic rise. How was he going to explain this? More importantly, would he live long enough to explain? His eyes darted about looking for somewhere to hide, but Avon knew Xenon Base too well.

Vila picked up the sleeveless jacket, surprised again at its weight. The material was sticky to his touch and it reeked with the unmistakeable smell of alcohol. It had been an accident, but Avon wouldn’t see it that way.

“VILA!”

Vila’s hands clenched, the metal studs of the jacket digging into his palms. Anyone else... but not Avon, not since the shuttle. He’d only wanted to understand.

The rest of the crew were off trying to recruit takers for this new alliance Avon was trying to put together. Vila was left moping about the base, nursing a bottle of particularly potent liqueur and a bellyful of bitterness and betrayal.

'Walk a mile in their shoes' - that’s what his mum had always said when people behaved badly. That’s what he’d been trying to do when he spotted the jacket. They must be wearing the green coveralls again, probably thought they looked more of a team, quasi-military even. Vila scoffed and looked at the jacket again. Well, it wasn’t shoes but...

The first thing that had struck him was the weight. His shoulders sagged as heavy fabric laden with metal trim dragged them down. And that was only the jacket. He thought of the jumpsuit and the boots too. Avon’s shoulders never sagged; his feet never dragged.

Walk a mile... Vila did. Well, maybe not a mile but he moved around the room mimicking Avon’s stance and gestures with uncanny accuracy. His lips twisted into that familiar ‘smile’ and he spoke in a fair imitation of that voice.

“As you always say, Vila – you know you are safe with me.”

For a brief terrifying moment, Vila became Avon. The burden of heavy clothing was nothing compared to the burden of responsibility, in fact he carried the weight as a penance for his failures. And the clothes were so much more. They were the armour, the bristling aggressive porcupine quills, which hid the vulnerable creature within. They were the exoskeleton that kept him standing as the man crumbled inside. They were the disguise that hid broken promises and lost dreams.

Vila tore off the jacket and made a grab for the bottle, but his tear-veiled eyes made him clumsy. The bottle toppled, pouring its contents over the jacket. Vila sank to the floor, clutched the spoiled fabric to his chest, and sobbed.

“VILA!”

At the sound of Avon’s voice, Vila shot to his feet. He was in real trouble now; there was nowhere to hide himself, the jacket - or his knowledge.

“There you are ...”

Avon’s voice trailed off as he looked at Vila. He strode across the room, as imposing in green as he was in black. Vila felt his feet stir with the urge to flee. Avon stopped, inches away; too close for comfort, close enough to smell the booze, to see the tears. Avon stared at him, his eyes dark and cold, seeing all.

The unbearable silence strung out between them. Vila was about to break when Avon gently took the jacket from his trembling hands. The hard stare softened momentarily as Avon gave a quick nod and left the room without speaking a word.

***


TRAVISINA - Partners in Crime
He was in real trouble now. Vila took another look and felt the panic rise. How was he going to explain this? More importantly, would he live long enough to explain? His eyes darted about, looking for somewhere to hide...

The service corridor was a stark contrast to the raucous glitz of Space City's casinos and nightclubs. Instead of music, laughter, jingling of coins and rattle of roulette wheels, there was only the hum of generators – plus rapidly approaching footsteps and harsh voices calling, "He went this way!"

Vila couldn't feign innocence or ignorance; not with his pockets full of credits and valuables liberated from their previous owners. Finding an unlocked door marked Additional Storage, he slipped thankfully into its dark interior. He listened intently until the footsteps passed, the voices arguing, "Not here - try the other corridor."

He breathed a sigh of relief. Safe, for now. There was probably nothing in here worth stealing, but he might as well have a look. Activating the lights, Vila suddenly found himself face to face with a young woman dressed in a maintenance worker's uniform, her astonished expression mirroring his own. They stared at each other, then Vila found his voice. "Nutmeg?"

"It's Nemmy, actually. Nutmeg's my stage name. What are you doing in here?"

"I could ask you the same question."

"I asked first."

"Hiding. There are people after me." Vila gestured at her uniform. "Good disguise. I almost didn't recognise you with..."

"With clothes on?"

Vila blushed. "I meant, in those clothes. Anyway, I wasn't watching your act."

"I know. I was watching yours."

"Eh?"

"Very slick, the way you got into customers' pockets while they were distracted by my performance."

"But you didn't finish your dance. You had to be replaced because you were drunk."

"I was pretending. I saw Viktor in the audience again, and wanted to escape before he requested my private services. Works every time."

Vila's teleport bracelet chimed. He rolled his eyes, but obediently raised his arm. "What do you want, Cally?"

"I want you back here. Get ready to teleport."

"Is that your mother?" Nemmy whispered. "Pretend to be drunk!"

"Wasting your time," Vila slurred. "I'm not going to be snatched away in the middle of... anything. Sightseeing." He looked round at the shelves of machine parts, tools and untidy spools of cable. "You should see some of the sights I'm seeing."

Nemmy unzipped her grey jacket, showing him a brief glimpse of the glittering costume underneath. Vila almost choked, but continued, "No. Perhaps you shouldn't." He managed to complete his conversation with Cally, despite Nemmy's giggling attempts to distract him.

"A necklace of teeth?" Nemmy asked afterwards. "Ouch. Not your mother; she must be your wife."

"Cally's not... oh, never mind. How was my drunk act?"

"Not bad. Keep it a bit more subtle next time. And remember to act hungover when you get back - pretend you've got a headache."

Vila sighed. "The trouble I'm in, I probably won't need to pretend."

Nemmy cautiously opened the door and stepped out into the quiet corridor. "All clear. We're safe to go. I'll return to my quarters: you'd better get back to the wife. But as we're partners in crime, I'd like my share of the loot, please." She held out a hand.

Vila passed her some of the contents of his pockets and kissed her cheek. "Nice to meet you, Nemmy. Thanks for the advice."

"Bye, Vila. Mind your teeth!"

Vila watched until she disappeared round the corner. Then assuming what he hoped would be a convincing stance, moaning and clutching his head, he called for teleport.

***


PAULA - In the Still of the Night
He was in real trouble now. Vila took another look and felt the panic rise. How was he going to explain this? More importantly, would he live long enough to explain? His eyes darted about looking for somewhere to hide.

He had chosen the tertiary cargo bay hoping it would be far enough away from the flight deck and crew cabins not to be detected. But now? He was taking his watch on the flight deck in the dead of night when Zen announced the alarm. It had been going so well. It had taken months of scrounging on every planet they had visited, searching for parts he could use. And he had assembled quite an impressive apparatus. But the thought of his cleverness was quickly tamped down by Zen’s alarm. He was panicking enough for two people now! As he ran down the empty corridors of the ship, he prayed he wouldn't run into any of his fellow crewmates. They’d kill him for sure, or at least dump him out of the nearest air lock - well, at least Avon might. Sweat flying from his flushed face; he made the tertiary cargo bay without being seen. As he opened the door, smoke billowed out into the corridor and he entered the bay and quickly shut and locked the door.

Luckily, all the cargo bays had air filtration separate from the living quarters and flight deck, so the smoke would probably not be noticed. He switched on the lights and was faced with dense yellow smoke. He started coughing in earnest as he reached for the venting switches. A few moments on, and the smoke had begun to fade and was soon gone. He walked over to his lash-up and switched the thermal heating unit off. What had malfunctioned, he wondered? A quick check of the kettle sitting on top of the heating unit gave him his answer. The unit had been set too high and it had completely evaporated the liquid in the ‘mash’. It was a close thing. It was nearly to the point of burning. He affixed the viewing port again to the kettle so no fumes would escape. He would clean it all up later.

He followed the various tubes and hastily put together equipment to the distilling tank. Everything was as it should be. He lifted the holding tank lid and looked in. Good. He had collected at least another gallon of the hooch. He had done very well for himself, sneaking various fruit and vegetable matter onto the ship without the rest of the crew noticing. It wasn’t easy carrying a sack of potatoes or a bushel basket of corn onto the ship without being noticed! Now this batch had finished, he’d have to search again for suitable materials for his machine.

He looked over to the far wall and beamed with pride. He had made at least 10 gallons of the stuff in the last few months - and it wasn’t half bad. Vila dipped a finger into the holding tank and tasted the concoction as he spoke to himself, a habit he could not break. “This is all of two days old,” he chuckled. If only he could get his hands on what Orac described as a charred oaken cask, whatever that was! The snarky computer insisted the hooch needed to be ‘aged’ sometimes up to 10 or more years. Well, Vila was having none of that. Sure, it was a bit sharp on the tongue and his stomach burned with warmth drinking it, but the whole idea was the effect you got, not the taste, right? Satisfied that everything was in order and his secret was safe, he left his home-made still and made his way stealthily back to the flight deck to continue his watch. Again, no one met him in the corridors.

Upon entering the flight deck and checking that all was well, he made his way to the circular couch and plopped down on it with a hiss of air from the cushions. He put his hand between the cushions and fished out the emergency bottle he always had hidden there. He put his feet up on the other seat cushion and took a long pull on his booze. Yes, it was definitely a bit rough, but it would do, and besides, he had made it all himself! But what to call it he mused, as his face flushed faintly from the nearly 100 proof alcohol. Zen’s White Lightening? No. Perhaps Vila’s Corn Squeezin’s or even Liberator’s Jet Fuel? He finally decided to call it Vila’s Green Soma. Sure, it was clear with no discernible colour, but who cared? It was ‘green’ though- and in dire need of a period of aging, but then, life was like that sometimes. Another long pull before he put the bottle away and chided himself a moment - ‘Whatever you do, Vila, don’t light a match!’

***


HUGBOT - The Solomon Principle
He was in real trouble now. Vila took another look and felt the panic rise. How was he going to explain this? More importantly, would he live long enough to explain? His eyes darted about looking for somewhere to hide.

Vila had opened the door of the seemingly deserted Federation complex, but it had closed as soon as he was inside. It featured a high-security lock on the outside, so there was no chance that Avon might come to his rescue. The real problem though was the fact that there was no lock on the inside. Not having a chance to get out was bad enough, but the real panic set in when he heard the footsteps approaching. How to explain his presence in a high-security Federation installation?

It wasn’t a trooper who came around the corner, but a nursebot. Nice to look at for sure, but it would be even harder to fool her/it than one of the Federation troopers who usually do not excel in intellectual capacity.

But there was no need to fool the robot. It fooled itself. "You have finally arrived, doctor!" it exclaimed.

Whoever ran this complex was obviously so confident in the infallibility of the locks that the mere act of entering legitimated Vila’s presence.

"I just realised that I forgot something," he said, "would you mind opening the door again? I’ll be back in a minute."

"Security protocol prohibits such an action. You are to stay inside the compound until you have completed your task." It was not so easy, then.

"Could you please... um... tell me the details? My briefing was a bit hurried," Vila replied.

"Follow me." The nursebot guided him to two prisoner cells, sealed off by force walls.

"Two years ago, while we were closing the mental hospital, our only remaining inmate escaped from his cell and destroyed all medical records," the nursebot explained. "As I could no longer distinguish between him and the director, I was forced to lock up both of them. My request for a psychologist was never answered."

Vila understood what had happened. During the war, the Federation had completely forgotten about the hospital. His first reflex was to arbitrarily declare one of the inmates to be the patient. On second thoughts, he did not want to release someone who might be a psychopathic killer while he was still here.

"Can you show me to the office?" he asked. Maybe he could find a clue.

The nursebot led him to a small office with a computer terminal. As he lacked Avon’s expertise to use it to manipulate the door controls, he tried to look up some psychological information instead. The personal files were erased, but there was plenty of general information on mental diseases. There were questionnaires. There was a Rorschach test. There were devices that recorded brain waves.

He tried it all. The results may have been conclusive for an expert in psychology, but not for a Delta grade expert in lock-picking. The hours went by, and he began to fear that Avon would eventually leave the planet. Surely, he would not risk teleporting into the building?

When Vila searched the compound for more information, he discovered a locked cabinet in the canteen. The lock was complicated. Vila needed the best part of five minutes to open it.

A dozen bottles of wine stared at him.

Yes. That was the solution.

Armed with three bottles of Invinoveritas, Vila went back to the cells for a chat and a drink with the inmates, first one, then the other. Soon his companions were comfortably tipsy. "What do you think yourself?" Vila asked casually. He managed to let it sound like the harmless question of a drinking chum. "Do you really feel mentally sane?"

The man in the first cell looked at him, his eyes gazing dreamily. "To be honest," he answered, "there are days when I doubt that myself."

When Vila asked the same question in cell no. 2, the inmate jumped to his feet. "Of course I am sane!" he cried, "how can you doubt that?"

Vila left the second cell and pointed back. "Lock up that one", he said.

***


Original artwork by Lurena and Atomicmayo

The original forum thread with the stories and comments can be found here: May 2015 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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