November Challenge - Collateral Costs

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by Gibraltar, Nov 14, 2008.

  1. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Come dancing with devils
    Need not to know their names
    We'll waltz like an army
    For the fear of our pain
    Our souls become useless
    As the day they were born
    In a rusted arm rocking chair
    Away from your storm


    Come in Closer, - Blue October


    The fires had largely extinguished themselves by the time he had managed to pull himself out from under the wreckage.

    He stumbled past the piles of smoldering wood, the shattered brick work and twisted metal that were all that remained of the village's homes and civic buildings. He heard the plaintive keening of the mortally wounded from beneath mounds of rubble, but was both too injured and too bone weary to care.

    They had come for him, again. In the dark of night, twenty-three lightyears from their last encounter some six months earlier, the training cadre had descended upon the hapless village. They arrived like a horde of reapers intent on filling the afterlife’s coffers with souls.

    The people of the village had been repaid for their hospitality in the currency of death. For all their warmth and welcome, they had been mere appetizers, an amusing distraction for the dark hunters as they butchered and bulldozed their way through the small community in their search for him.

    He paused and looked skyward as his breath rose in plumes above him in the chilled night air. The clouds and snow were now past. The naked stars stared back at him with cold indifference.

    He was cursed, damned. He had known better. Innocents had died before because he had elected to hide among them. His own weakness had led him here. In his arrogance and weariness and desperation for humanoid contact he had made the unwarranted assumption that they had finally left him in peace, that he had finally run far enough to evade them. For years he had eschewed civilization for fear of endangering others by his presence. But what use was a Listener without others to commune with? Without people and their stories he was less than nothing. The unhearing ear, an empty vessel, a shell of his true potential.

    He had been a soldier in a former life, countless years and parsecs ago. He thought he had left those crimes and burdens behind him, but the universe had other ideas. A penance was to be exacted, and so the Hirogen had come for him five years earlier on an otherwise unremarkable journey between worlds on a simple transport.

    They had scythed their way through the other passengers with all the zeal of eager students seeking the approval of their instructor. Of all those aboard the tramp freighter, only he’d survived. He had fought with a manic intensity born of desperation, and had somehow managed to wound two of the monstrous creatures. It had been a fluke of fate, a terrible mistake. Had he died with the other passengers, it would have ended there. Instead, he had the terrible misfortune to have piqued their interest.

    They had poked and prodded and tortured him as they sought to understand what made him different, what had made him worthy prey. They discovered his people’s longevity, and that fact had sparked their hideous intellects to conceive of using him as a long-term teaching aid. A beast of prey to be hunted, captured, tormented and released again into the wilds for those times when the Hirogen found themselves without suitable prey in their vicinity.

    They had told him to run as far and fast as he could, that they would be coming.

    And so he had.

    He looked back at what little remained of the inn that had hosted him. The Yanuk family, an extended group of Zetrarian merchants, had taken him into their inn and showered him with the milk of companionship - food, drink, song, and story. He closed his eyes as the images of their last moments replayed upon the screen of his mind...

    The fire in the giant hearth burned hotly as Eden’Baugh filled his stein with another portion of their homemade brew, a heady mix of fermented local grains that had the kick of a matter/anti-matter reaction. She had favored him with a smile that promised that further adventures might be had once they had retired to their rooms for the night. Ontus was regaling him with an amusing story about the legendary idiocy of the local stockyard owner when he felt a familiar tremor in the recesses of his mind.

    It had been months since he’d felt the unwelcome sensation that accompanied the proximity of the psi-hounds, the quasi-sentient telepathic tracking animals favored by the Hirogen. It was not unlike deja vu, a slightly surreal feeling that something was amiss before a consciousness brushed across his mind. It was like looking into a warped mirror as his consciousness mingled with a simplified and distorted copy of his own mind-state through which the trackers sought to predict his movements.

    Without thinking he leapt to his feet, startling his hosts in the process. “Get out!” he shouted. “Get out, now!” They simply stared at him as if he’d suddenly gone stark raving mad.

    He was weaponless for perhaps the first time in recent memory. Clad in the simple, threadbare style of the locals, he had refused to carry his usual litany of knives, pulsers, slug-throwers and disruptors that frequently left him a comical, clanking mockery of a soldier.

    The entire wall of the building imploded and showered the occupants of the great room with a storm of splinters and brick shrapnel. He dove for cover beneath the table and avoided the worst of the onslaught, then scrambled back to his feet as the first of the psi-hounds charged into the room amidst a flurry of snow from outside.

    His mind raced as he searched for anything nearby that could be used as a weapon. He spotted potential and dove for a fireplace poker, its tip still glowed orange from where it had been inadvertently left extending into the flames. The poker hissed terribly as he grasped it and the stench of his own burning flesh filled his nostrils. The searing pain was offset by the flood of adrenaline his glands pumped into his bloodstream in response to his naked terror.

    One of the hounds had pounced on Jovis, Ontus’ eldest son. The young man shrieked horribly as the ravening, genegineered beast flayed him open with its claws.

    He raced forward and drove the scorching end of the poker into the animal’s flank. It howled and flailed; it’s foot struck out and sent him flying backwards where he splayed across the top of the table.

    As he tried to gather his wits, a shadow fell across him. His eyes cleared and he saw the hulking form of a Hirogen hunter as the giant loomed close. He coiled his legs and struck out, making contact with a bubbling cauldron of soup that his hosts had just set upon the table. The kettle clanged noisily off the Hirogen’s armored chest as its contents sprayed across the monster’s unprotected eyes.

    The giant bellowed in pain and shock. It’s massive tetryon rifle clattered to the ground as the hunter clawed at his own face.

    He pulled himself towards the end of the table and rolled onto the floor where he grabbed a hold of the rifle and heaved it’s muzzle upwards. He hooked his other arm through the ridiculously large trigger guard and pulled desperately with the crook of his arm. The rifle discharged with a blinding flash and roar that knocked the Hirogen backwards at least five meters and punched his armored bulk through the far wall.

    He had no time to savor his victory, for he turned back towards the now exposed outer wall of the inn in time to see another Hirogen eviscerating Ontus with swift strokes of it’s curved blade. He levered the unwieldy rifle up and onto the table top where he placed the young Hirogen apprentice in his sights. Just as he was about to pull back on the trigger, a psi-hound barreled into him. He fell forward onto the tetryon rifle and the portable cannon flipped up and fired into the ceiling. As the hound struggled to find purchase on the hardwood floor and turned to rush him again, the entire structure collapsed in a creaking, popping mass of cascading timbers.

    Now, hours later, he stood examining the ruined village as he cradled his broken arm protectively with his other limb. He found no solace in the growing stillness and so he started off and trudged through the drifting snow with no particular destination in mind.

    The catch-web that engulfed him delivered a jolt that set his nerves on fire and mocked the pain of his burned hands and broken arm in its intensity. He awoke to see five pairs of metallic boots surrounding him, the cadre, he realized with renewed dread. They had simply waited him out, prolonging their hunt by busying themselves with the remaining villagers like felines toying with their prey.

    He began to shut down his cognitive centers one by one in preparation for the agonies to come. Following the depredations of his captors, he would be released yet again to flee across the stars and thereby provide the Hirogen with a pleasant and educational diversion. He reflected that this was his lot in life and honestly no less than he deserved, given the gross misdeeds of his youth. Perhaps that fact is what kept him from taking his own life in those endless hours of soul-wrenching despair as he awaited the inexorable approach of the hunters. He had earned this.

    Thus ended his two-hundred and twenty-seventh year...

    His eyes snapped open and he sat bolt upright, the persistent beeping of the alarm matching tempo with the pounding in his chest. He was soaked in sweat, and his nerves tingled with the distant memory of the catch-web’s caress. He swung his legs over the edge of the bed as he took a series of deep breaths and fought to regain his composure. The foreign eye-shaped portals of his guest quarters seemed to taunt him, so reminiscent of the windows in the family’s inn so long ago. But this was not Atim-Karias, this was Deep Space Nine.

    Within two hours his new assignment would arrive. The newly re-commissioned starship Gibraltar, soon to be commanded by one of his oldest friends from this most recent of lives. A new beginning for them both, and his opportunity to repay the friendship that had buoyed his bruised and burdened soul during his four agonizing years at Starfleet Academy.

    Pava Lar’ragos stood and headed for the shower as he cast aside the memories of that terrible night from hundreds of years ago and half a galaxy away.
     
    Last edited: Nov 15, 2008
  2. SLWatson

    SLWatson Captain Captain

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    That was really damn intense; the whole thing is heart-poundingly paced and extremely well-written. Brilliant job!
     
  3. Mistral

    Mistral Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Damn. I kept inadvertently clicking my mouse and my hand is all sweaty. I've overused the description "intense" with other stories-I don't know what to say. This was on another level entirely.
     
  4. DavidFalkayn

    DavidFalkayn Commodore Premium Member

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    Intense does not begin to describe this story. We're seeing more and more why Pava is the person he is today--and why he is such a mess inside.
     
  5. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

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    We also keep hearing about the horrible acts he was responsible for in his youth. Pava's whole persona seems to be based on one massive guilt-trip.

    Have we ever learned what he did that was so horrible that he see being the Hirogen's Tosk (was it?) as acceptable punishment.

    Oh and also extremely well written story. But hey, that goes without saying.
     
  6. TrekkieMonster

    TrekkieMonster Commodore Commodore

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    wow. Just wow. That was fantastic. So intense. And, as always, I love getting these little glimpses into Pava's past. You do such a good job here of giving us amazing detail about one period in his life, while providing mere tantalizing morsels of others. I love it! Well done. :bolian:
     
  7. BrotherBenny

    BrotherBenny Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    That was incredible. So emotive, descriptive and powerful.

    Pava is not a guy to trifle with these days, and I think that were the Hirogen to catch up with him again, so far from their hunting grounds, they would find him worthier prey, and even tougher to kill.
     
  8. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Have you read Geometries of Chance? :lol: I think some of it has to do with his taking civilian hostages and then selling them to the Vidiians to scrap out for organs. That, and the general sins he accumulated during the Korsian Wars as part of an expansive imperialist military machine... he has a lot to atone for, even now.
     
    Last edited: Nov 16, 2008
  9. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

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    There was that.

    I did read Geometries. Seriously. I just needed a little memory prod. Yeah those things he did were not cool. Not cool at all, Pava.
     
  10. mirandafave

    mirandafave Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    When it comes to Pava he seems to have survived so many tough situations that it makes any story involving him worthy of entering the challenge's remit. But also considering his past it might be more a question of who can survive when around him! Gripping and authentically instense.
     
  11. Dnoth

    Dnoth Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    I'm late to the party here, but I just wanted to say how amazing your writing is. It is something to aspire to.
     
  12. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Thank you very much! :o
     
  13. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    CeJay, I think you just penned the title to Pava's autobiography! :lol:
     
  14. Goliath

    Goliath Vice Admiral Admiral

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    This is very well-written. It does an especially good job of conveying the horror of the Hirogen attack.

    But for some reason, my reaction was muted. It just didn't move me.

    I think the reason for this is rather similar to the reason I gave for criticizing captcalhoun's story.

    You've established that Pava is an exceptional warrior. As a consequence, unless he's put in a truly exceptional situation, there's not much suspense--at least, not for me.

    I find it hard to believe that he really has a chance of being defeated and killed--even when he's unarmed and under attack by Hirogens and their psi-hounds. I just expect him to survive, somehow--and this problem is aggravated by the fact that this is just a monthly challenge entry.

    (This, after all, is why Trek has redshirts--to make a situation seem dangerous, when, deep down, we all know that the main characters are going to survive.)

    I think, to make me actually fear for Pava's survival, you'd have to put him in some kind of dangerous non-combat situation.
     
  15. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Well, the theme of the challenge was survival. As I'm using a series character set prior to my present series timeline, one would naturally assume that whatever the situation, he's going to survive it. ;)

    My take on this was to examine the price of his survival. Not only in the lives of innocents caught in the middle of Pava's cat and mouse game with the Hirogen, but the cost to his mind and his soul. He survived his subsequent encounters with the hunters physically, but mentally and spiritually he is still recovering centuries later.

    Yes, Lar'ragos is an exceptional warrior, but he's also fallible. He makes poor choices, acts impulsively, gets shot, gets defeated, but he never ever gives up. My hope was to shed some light on some of the experiences in his past that make him the man he is now that readers either love or love to hate.

    I'm sorry you didn't find it more to your liking.
     
  16. Goliath

    Goliath Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Okay. But--where is that cost? A bad dream doesn't seem like much of a price to pay for all that. At the end, Lar'ragos just seems to shrug it off, and roll on.

    I'm sure you've seen the DS9 episode "Hard Time." That explores a similar theme to what you wanted to explore here--the psychological cost of O'Brien's virtual imprisonment, and the self-hatred arising from his murder of his cellmate.

    But only half of that episode took place "then," when O'Brien was in prison. The remaining half of that episode unfolded "now," on the station, as the Chief struggled to live with himself, and almost failed.

    What you've written here seems like the first part--what was happening then--without the second--what is happening now. And this led me to think that the story was really about what happened then--his survival, rather than the cost thereof.

    Do you see what I mean? I hope you don't think I'm badgering you, here. I'm really trying to be constructive. Your stories are ordinarily so good that I was surprised at my own lack of response to this one.
     
  17. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    I guess my point would be that the Pava we know as he exists in the 24th century is the ultimate cost of his trials with the Hirogen, as well as his other experiences. A reader on this board familiar with the Gibraltar canon goes into this story with that knowledge, that Lar'ragos is a deeply flawed man. Here we see part of what makes him that way. He goes into this village with the knowledge that he could be endangering the inhabitants, but he's so desperate for contact with people that he gambles that the Hirogen won't come for him that day. Yes, he still dreams of it occasionally, but that's not the real symptom of his psychological scars, his day to day life is.

    And no, I'm not at all offended. I think it's interesting to see how different people view the same story, how it affects some (and in what ways), but not others.