This is one of only a few stories that don't have a beginning date listed. It is the first story that I wrote under the name V. Allen Turner. It is an almost complete seperation from The Challengers and Troy Star except that the lead character here is the author of the series and Troy is mentioned as is Darkon. This story simply lost focus and I lost interest. I have no resolution to the story.
The Challengers Volume One
I am he who is blind,
V. Allen Turner, 1987.
The Challengers 1:
Flight of the Alpha
Floor Plan of the Palace of LeFluer
The Palace of LeFluer is a strongly built building as you will agree when you have seen the floor plan. There are explanations with each floor. Some floors have been left out due to their exactity to each other. Starrius’ route to the Throne Room is marked.
On the second level, instead of doors at each building, apartments take the space. And a conference replaces the Throne Room. Level 3 is the same.
Due to the buildings being six levels and the corridors being only three, it isn’t necessary to include the corridors. The spaces taken up by the corridors are now taken up by apartments and offices. The dome has far more offices. There are fewer guards.
Since the buildings are only six levels high it isn’t necessary to include them. Level 8 is different in that is one large conference room.
Prologue: Earth’s Scientific History 2000 – 2980
World War III hadn’t occurred by the year 2000. The superpowers had turned to laser weapons. Nuclear weapons still existed but only as an alternative to lasers. In 2054, NASA created a new long-range space shuttle called Exodus. It went into the Smithsonian beside the Enterprise. The reusable model was called Challenger II in honor of the original. Ten of these were created by 2085. The US used them to launch their nuclear weapons into deep space. (The weapons were exploded by remote control.) The USSR created their own version for the same purpose and to dispose of unsightly waste. The US took the hint and did the same. They joined together in an effort to clean up the Earth. By 2230, this had been reasonably accomplished and nuclear weapons were a thing of the past.
The next major step was the world hunger problem. Scientists had developed a hybrid seed that would grow anywhere with minimal amounts of water. The fruit that grew from the seeds quickly covered the Sahara and Antarctica and other such places. Water systems and electricity were established in these parts of the world. Schools were built so the people could get an education and jobs in the newly built cities that were slowly being established. This was achieved by 2395.
Then space exploration became the main objective of the US and the USSR and any other nation with the money. Many countries, which had been enemies before, united to have the money, manpower, and just simple power the reach the stars. Experimentation of the moon was the first step. Once solar power and a storage system were established (late 1900s) gravity was next. Artificial gravity was created. Buildings were established on the moon. These buildings were being used as prisons. Population was reduced somewhat and the old prison buildings could be used as something else. The prison covered over half the moon’s surface by 2500. The experimentation had succeeded.
Now the colonization of other worlds became a concern. The purpose was to further reduce Earth’s over-population problem. The journey between the stars took hundreds of years sometimes. Until the invention of warp drive, colonization wasn’t possible. Warp drive enabled ships to travel huge distances in seconds. The invention of an automatic G-force stabilizer allowed this without pressure to the crew, passengers, cargo, and internal circuitry.
In 2564 a new material for the construction of ships and buildings created. It was called trilinide and was incredibly durable. This, plus the discovery of a new power source, called photon energy – for the sake of argument – enabled the colonization of planets possible.
By 2683 Earth had two planets under the US, two under the USSR, and one under China.
Then it happened. While China was colonizing a planet, a race of dog-like beings called Scetzas attacked. The Scetzas quickly overtook the unprepared Chinese. Their next target was Earth. They were defeated on Earth, but 700 years of work had been destroyed. Earth made a sketchy treaty with the Scetzas.
The countries and colonies united under a document called the Constitution of the United Colonies of Earth. The Scetzas helped in the recreation of all that had been destroyed. Their planet, Chellak, (with its colonies) and Earth, under a second Constitution of the Colonies, became the largest empire in the known universe. World peace had been established.
In 2820 a new type of ship was created. It had solar collectors, photon converters and storage system; lasers, accommodations for four, and warp drive, plus trilinide. It was the effort of the Scetzas and Humans to show their races could live together in peace – although not sexually. Earth’s new space program was called the United Colonies Space Administration – UCSA. The first ship was called Capricorn. It went into the Smithsonian. The next ship was designed by Earth under the World Aeronautics and Space Administration – WASA. It was called Alpha. WASA spent two years trying to get it going (2824). The Alpha never went far. It went to one of Aquarius’ tow moons with some other useless ships as diversions for prisoners. One hundred sixty-three years later in 2987 the Alpha proved not so useless. Just ask Prince Starrius Tromas.
Chapter One: The Assassination
It rose from the ground like a half-basketball on a huge, uneven, green court. From the eight-level, flat-topped dome, there extended four three-level arched corridors like positions on a compass. At the end of the corridors there was a square six-level building much smaller in area that the dome. The front of each building sloped back slightly. A three-level, arched, flat-topped corridor circled from one building to the next. Just by looking at it, anyone could guess that the Palace of LeFluer was a place of power and a mixture of technologies – namely Human and Scetza.
LeFluer wasn’t a French claimed country on the planet called Aquarius. It was called LeFluer because an Englishman with a French wire had named it such in 2870. Aquarius was called such because the Englishman had been born in mid-February.
The Palace was set on a hill overlooking the capital city of Naltis. Naltis was about the size of Los Angeles but the population was barely half that. LeFluer was about the size of Australia. The population was more thickly spread out and about twice that of Australia.
The economic situation of LeFluer was like that of the US in the 1950s and 60s, only half the people were making as much as people in the mid-70s. The new monetary system was based on the Scetza’s metric system. (The world had gone completely metric by 2010.) The colonies used the same system. The standard was called a credit. There were larger terms. A credit was made of thick paper and coins of metal. A decicredit, or deci, was one-tenth of a credit with the buying power of a quarter. A centicredit, or cent(i), was one-one hundredth of a credit with the buying power of a dime, and a millicredit, or milli, was one – one thousandth of a credit with the power of a penny. There was no need to convert to pounds, dollars, yen, marks, francs, or anything else because all the colonies used this system.
LeFluer was a type of kingdom. That is, the king or queen rules but there was a prime minister directly under them (like the vice-president), an archbishop under him, a bishop under him (like Cabinet member), two representatives from each province (like a Senator), and all of these had secretaries.
If a king or queen proved to be unjust or unreliable the people of LeFluer sign a petition to have them and their family taken off the throne by vote. All that was required was at least 500 signatures from each of the forty-two provinces; 50 of these had to be people of influence. (Like a mayor or representative or somebody of wealth, etc.) If that was achieved, the archbishop and the bishop had to sign it. Then the Prime Minister would call a meeting of Representatives. They would vote on the issue. If the king or queen was voted out, the petitioners would have to have somebody to take their place. The representatives would vote again. Most of the time the new man or woman got the position. If they didn’t, the Prime Minister would take over until somebody was elected.
The Tromas family was an “elected family,” as they were called. The first Tromas was Crontar. He was elected in 2903 and served eight years. His son, Lithon took over in 2911 and served 30 years. His son, Mancini, took over in 2940 and served 30 years. He was still alive. Tolan had just taken over in 2970. It was now 2987 and Tolan’s son was twenty-seven. In three years he would be king. If something happened to Tolan before then, the Prime Minister took over – in the event of the queen’s death – until he reached age. If the queen were alive, she’d take over until the boy was thirty-five. As so happened Vanessa, Tolan’s wife, has been stricken down by some disease two years prior.
Tolan Tromas sat on the Throne of The Palace of LeFluer. He was a big man. Big as in plump but short. He had dark brown hair and blue eyes. He wore loose fitting robes of many colors.
The Throne Room itself was circular with a domed ceiling. Greek pillars were placed at ten-foot intervals along the wall. In the center of the room was a three level dais, each round sections getting smaller as it rose, like steps. At the top were two magnificent thrones. The left was empty. Placed around the dais were four pillars. Directly in front and in back and either side of the thrones was a set of huge double doors. On either side of the doors were two guards. All over the room were tables, chairs, books, pictures, etc.
Tolan, for once, didn’t have any paperwork. His secretary was taking care of it. He wasn’t really a lonely man. Of if he was lonely, he was certainly almost never alone. About the only times he was alone was when he went to the bathroom or to bed or sometime like those. As for lonely, he had his secretary, the guards, the members of the board, his son, etc. Well, maybe not his son.
His son, Starrius, was the prince with nothing to do and no power to do it with. Actually, Tolan was the only one of the two who considered him a prince. Starrius considered himself no more important than the president’s son considered himself. And he certainly wasn’t a prince.
At the moment, Starrius was walking from his apartment to the elevator across the hall. In the corners across from the apartment section was a guard. (To the left of one and the right of the other was an elevator.) Starrius knew the guards’ names and their salaries and their commander. There wasn’t much he didn’t know about the Palace. He pressed the up arrow.
“Good morning, sir,” said the elevator attendant once it had come up and the doors had opened. “Which floor?”
“Good morning,” said Starrius although he wasn’t sure of it being good – or morning for that. “Ground level.”
Starrius stepped into the elevator and the doors closed. The attendant pressed the button marked “1”. The elevator descended as the air pressure decreased. The elevator stopped and the doors opened.
“Level one, sir,” said the attendant.
“Thank you,” said Starrius. He stepped out of the elevator into a huge open corridor. Immediately in front and to the left of him were more double doors. He turned right and in front of him further down the corridor were more guarded doors. Starrius turned right again and walked passed the elevator. On his left was another elevator. Further down this corridor were two more guards by double doors.
One of the guards opened a door. The doors opened inward. Starrius walked through, returning their unnecessary salute. The door banged shut behind him. Starrius thought about the Palace. Palace? He thought. Whatever gave them that idea? It was an oversized office and apartment building. As far as he knew the “Palace” was 125 meters across. That was probably wrong. He couldn’t imagine the circumference or the diameter was that huge. Starrius did a quick mental calculation. The Palace was approximately 392.5 meters in circumference. Starrius whistled under his breath.
He passed through another set of double doors and yet another five minutes later before he was where he wanted to go. Starrius was in the Throne Room. It was neat, he thought, how the ceiling of the Throne Room was domed but the floor of the conference room above was flat.
The first thing he saw was his father sitting on his throne looking thoughtfully at the ceiling. It would be unique, Starrius thought, if for once we were thinking the same thing. The architect must have gone through hell to get the effect. No, he wouldn’t. He would know how, thought Starrius.
“Good morning, Father,” said Starrius as he approached the dais.
“Closer to noon,” said Tolan in a mellow almost sarcastic voice. It had an almost English accent. “It’s 11:67 in the ‘morning’ as you called it.”
Time, too, had gone metric in spite of conditions. Because of different planets’ rotation periods and revolution periods, new watches had to be made with special attachable miniature computers so one could reprogram his or her watch to keep time on different planets if visiting or vacationing. Aquarius had 370 twenty-five hour days. That meant fifty-three week years but seven-day weeks; however, five-week months and twelve-month years. Every student knew this. What also knew was that 100 centiseconds made a second, 10 seconds made a minute, and 100 minutes made an hour.
“I apologize, Father. I got up at nine, dressed, made up the bed, straightened up my room and had breakfast brought to me. Oh, I almost forgot. I took a shower before I dressed. I apologize for my tardiness. But I didn’t know I was expected to be punctual. Ah, but I’ve got to keep up the ‘royal image’ as you call it.”
“Enough, Starrius,” warned Tolan. “What privileges you have, I allow. I can take them away.”
“I’m twenty-seven, Father. I don’t need your permission to do anything. I’m going for a walk with Amanda.”
“Tamandace Victoria Sterling!” Starrius knew what was coming.
“Oh her,” said Tolan casually. “Why can’t you date the princess of another nation?”
“Because I love Amanda. We’ve been going together since 2977. I could never find another. I’m going, Father. Don’t try to stop me!” With that he turned around and marched out the east door.
“Because he loves her. Ha! Could you imagine that? I could end up with grandchildren at forty-seven.”
Starrius stuck his head in the door.
“Why not, Father? You had children, or a child, at twenty.” With that he left.
That arrogant little non-descriptive will not get the best of me. Not while I live, he won’t. What are you grinning at?” He yelled at the guards who were trying not to laugh. Starrius had gotten the best of his father again.
Starrius exited the Palace through the east wing. It was said the Palace’s corridors extended like positions on a compass. It wasn’t by accident. The architect had watched the sun rise and set. He called the rising point east and built the Palace on that basis. Starrius lived on the sixth floor of the north building in apartment N-6:3 (North building, sixth level, third apartment, clockwise.)
He went to his assigned slot in the parking area. His little heavy-duty Jeep-like hovercraft was waiting there with its parking gear down. The little aerodynamic Jeep Renegade was a 2976 model. Starrius had meant to get a new one in the coming summer. It was now April. (The months on planets were named after Earth’s months, for the sake of argument.) He unfastened the top once he had opened the door. Starrius folded the waterproof top at its hinges and put it under the fold-down removable back seat. It was a sunny day. He didn’t want to waste all that sun with the top up.
Starrius shut the door and activated the lift off sequence. The hovercraft rose fifteen centimeters off the ground. (That’s about one-sixteenth short of six inches.) The four square “feet” retracted under the Jeep. Starrius put it in reverse, pulled the craft out of its slot, turning back to the left, then put it forward and headed east.
Tolan looked up to see who had entered. He gaped at the sight.
“So you’re back!” he said. Tolan started to get up to tell the guards to arrest the person. He only managed to stand half way before the figure pulled a small photon pistol with a silencer. The guards didn’t hear the gun, nor did they see the laser due to the silencer. They did see their king stand up then fall over on his face. All eight guards raced to him. In the confusion the figure raced out the east entrance.
“Stop him!” called one of the guards. But by then it was too late. The person had gotten to the parking lot and was getting into a blue 2976 Jeep Renegade and pulling out, then heading east.
No one even got the license number.
“Did anyone get even part of a description?” asked the guard who had called for the others to stop whoever it was. The guards who had been guarding the east door from the outside walked up to him. One spoke.
“He had light brown hair and looked about thirty or younger.”
The other spoke up. “He was about 1.90 meters tall. I guess he could have been 102 kilograms, maybe more. And fast as a laser bolt.”
“It’s funny you should use the term laser bolt,” said the guard in charge.
“How so, sir,” he corrected.
“Yes, sir, Captain Rayford.”
“The king is dead. Someone inform Starrius.”
For a second no one moved.
“Move!” shouted Rayford.
A guard went to a wall visaphone to call Starrius. The TV-like screen didn’t light up like it should have when someone answered.
“He isn’t in.” Then he thought. “He’s gone for a walk with Tamandace Sterling.”
“Oh, yes,” said Rayford, remembering. “And he has brown hair, is twenty-seven, about 1.90 meters tall, 102 kilograms and ran track in high school. A hundred meters in 5.7 seconds. He used to brag about it.” He turned to the guard who had seen the Jeep. “What kind of car does Starrius have?”
“A blue 2976 Jeep Renegade, sir. May I ask why?”
“Starrius may have killed the king.”
“But Tolan was his father!” the guard protested.
“I’m going to report this to the prime minister and request a warrant for his arrest. Stand by.”
Rayford went to do it. The guards stood around the king mumbling.
Chapter Two: The Suspects
At the moment, Starrius was driving into the less densely populated area of Naltis. He turned on a small country road. All roads were with trilinide just as all cars, buildings and vehicles.
He parked in the driveway of a small, split level dome-conventional home with a station wagon in the garage. The Sterling household.
Starrius got out of the Jeep, walked up to the door and knocked. He was answered by a short woman in her early fifties with white-streaked brown hair.
“Prince Starrius!” she exclaimed. “This is most certainly unexpected. Come in.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Sterling.” He walked into the average size living room with its antique furniture. The Sterlings were a well-to-do family. They weren’t poor but they weren’t hurting either.
“Amanda. Starrius is here,” called Mrs. Sterling.
A tall brown haired girl came quickly down the stairs. She was wearing light colored tight clothes. She was busty but had a nice figure and long legs. Her dark blue eyes fixed on Starrius.
“Hi!” she perked up.
“Hello.” He liked what he saw. The loose shirt and tight pants showed all he wanted to see until they were married, not that it mattered, because it Mrs. Sterling found out about Amanda’s virginity lost at eighteen unmarried she’d have a heart attack and then attack Starrius with a broom.
The only thing worse would be if Amanda attacked him with a broom. Amanda would kill him. She could use anything as a weapon, especially for a staff or spear; possibly a sword. (Starrius could pilot any ship or hovercraft after ten minutes of looking around and studying the controls.)
“How would you like to drive up to the Foot of the Giant? Then we could walk up to the top.”
The Giant was the tallest mountain in LeFluer. It was about five kilometers high, which isn’t much. Most people called it “giant” as a joke, some because they couldn’t pronounce its name – Sienachtun – and some because it looked like a giant at dusk.
“Up Sienachtun?” asked Amanda. (Pronounced zee-NAHK-toon, like in German.)
“Okay, let’s go.” She started for the door.
“Wait a minute,” said Mrs. Sterling. “You two will get hungry. Let me make you a snack for when you get to the top.”
They tried to talk her out of it but twenty minutes later they were at the foot of the mountain with an aluminum box in the back of the Jeep. Starrius took the rectangular box out of the Jeep and shouldered the leather strap. He grunted. Small snack? More like a seven-course meal.
“She can pack a lunch, can’t she?” asked Amanda who had heard Starrius grunt.
“You want to take the scenic route?”
“No. We are taking what I absent-mindedly called the Royal Road. I found it on the same path as the tourist route but it takes longer and is much easier. And it’s private.”
“Good. I’ve gotten tired of public systems and the Titan crisis.”
Even though peace had been established on some planets for a while, it never lasted long enough. Some place always had to bicker and complain. Titan was one such place. Because it was the largest moon of Jupiter, the inhabitants got the idea they were more important than the other eleven moons and attacked two. Just recently they attacked a third. But none of the other colonies had interfered. The Scetzas had wanted to fight Titan to show them who was stronger. Earth said no and to let them fight it out for themselves. The other moons of Jupiter had to show Titan they were stronger without help.
Starrius laughed her skepticism off without a thought. People never liked the way news made other peoples’ problems a long, boring soap opera.
“Come on.” They started up the mountain. The path was wide enough for the jeep, but Starrius, like almost everybody else, preferred to walk up.
After a while Starrius stopped to rest.
“The path I discovered is another thirty meters ahead and to the left. It’s small and hard to find if you don’t know where it is or where to look.”
They rested five minutes and went on. Starrius walked ahead a little, constantly looking to the left. A small ditch gave away the road.
“Here it is,” said Starrius. “After you.” He pulled some branches and vines aside for Amanda. She walked through, ducking under the limbs Starrius couldn’t reach and hopping over the ditch. Starrius followed.
“You are standing on the royal road,” Starrius said, pointing at the narrow deer path. It wasn’t actually a deer path for there were no deer on Aquarius. There were no deer-like animals on Aquarius. There were, however, large rabbit-like animals the size of a horse with one horn on its head. They were called unifurs and tasted divine.
“It’s gorgeous,” Amanda grinned.
“I know. Come on.”
They set off up the gently sloping, much shaded path. Soon they came to a low shelf of rock with a small waterfall.
“Up that?” asked Amanda, who hadn’t any experience in climbing up wet rocks.
“Yes. And then onto greater things, like something our archeologist friends haven’t found, I hope.”
“It’s a surprise. Just wait.”
“Why do you always do this to me?” laughed Amanda.
“Because sooner or later you’ll do the same to me and I just can’t wait to see what it is. Leg up?” He made his hands into a stirrup.
Amanda put her foot in the stirrup and stood up slowly, holding onto the little stones that projected from the wall. Starrius pushed her up and over the 3.6 meter high cliff. Amanda got onto the shelf and looked down at Starrius.
“I’ll climb. Those handholds you used are good for footholds. How do you think I usually get up? I discovered this route.”
Amanda laughed. Starrius got up safe with the picnic box. He refused to call it a basket. They rested ten minutes and started for Starrius’ surprise. After another ten minutes they came upon it.
It was exquisite. A small, flat clearing littered with what looked like the structures of old houses.
“According to the book I found it was called Tomara (toe-MAH-rah). When Aquarius was discovered in 2860, the first thing that was exploited was this tribe, all but a few dead now due to the diseases brought with the explorers. Like the Indians when white men settled the Americas.”
On some of the planets discovered inhabitants had been plentiful. The same thing that became of the Indians became of them. Now simply black marks on Earth’s long bloody history.
“These people learned English and wrote a book called End.” He stooped over and picked up a thick ring bound volume with a solid plastic cover and loose-leaf paper. Each page was filled up to the three hundred pages. Notes on what had happened to the race up to the present date.
“It’s still not finished. It’ll be passed down until the last of them dies. Or that’s what it says.”
“You’re morbid, Starrius,” said Amanda accusingly.
“Maybe. Come on. It’s to the top.” They walked on.
(Unseen by them an aged hand picked up the book.)
Starrius and Amanda stood on a high, flat, open hill. They had reached the top. Just below they could see the Palace. Starrius disagreed with the term.
“Originally, only the dome was there. Then somebody added the wings after studying the sun.”
“Stop showing off, Starrius,” came a male voice.
Starrius and Amanda turned to see a tall, blonde-haired man of about Starrius’ age.
Eric was a twenty-seven year old, blonde-haired, brown-eyed young man and a whiz at computers. He was 1.80 meters tall and 97.7 kilograms. He was wearing a loose shirt and tight pants. His full name was Ericon Joseph Remington.
With him was a twenty-five year old, dark blonde-haired, blue-green-eyes, a nice figure, and hell of a lock pick. She was 1.35 meters tall and 50 kilograms. She was Joannaphine Elizabeth Berckley – Beth for short.
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