SIM:Vigilant Sims/Invitation to a Forfeited Nothing

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((Assembly Chamber Grounds, Prak Zel))

::With nothing more than a cursory glance at the assembled flock, Vahini Dalal assumed her position on the rostrum that had been constructed for the media event that she was rapidly beginning to see as a total farce. Unimpressed with the rhetoric of a Laudean and his alien cronies, she had been disappointed to see that the public opinion polls were swaying back towards the Federation camp. To cap it all off, she couldn't understand why her Stratagema match with Minister Zaveri was scheduled for this particular time. It seemed as though it was an unnecessary bolt-on, nothing more than a side-show to gain one or two more per cent in the polls. Still, she knew Zakdorn culture well enough that a refusal to play Stratagema was the same thing as a loss at Stratagema. Glaring scornfully at her opponent, she took her seat.::

Dalal: Alright, Zaveri. Let's get this over with. I'll make it as painless for you as possible.

::The more benign of the two Zakdorn women simply smiled sweetly and remained on her feet as her counterpart seated herself and donned her gauntlets.::

Zaveri: Actually, Vahini, I won't be playing you.

::So indignant was the aide that she almost choked on her response.::

Dalal: What!? You drag me into your little melodrama to forfeit a match? Explain yourself!

::Zaveri could have sat and basked in Dalal's rage for quite some time. It was delicious. Pulling out the chair opposite Dalal at the Stratagema table, she stepped to one side to allow Ensign Fox to approach.::

Zaveri: If you read the invitation carefully, it said I had *invited* you to a Stratagema match, not challenged you to one. Allow me to introduce the young man who did. Oh, and I should probably point out that your microphone just went live.

::She grinned so widely at the last comment that her cheek ridges stacked themselves into a tight pile. Turning the expression on Ensign Fox, she listened as the crowd cheered for him to take his place.::

Fox: ::Quietly to Zaveri:: She doesn't look pleased to see me....

Zaveri: ::Dropping her voice:: Good luck, Ensign. Hopefully her emotional state will hamper her performance.

Fox: oO I sure hope so...Oo

::The young Ensign displayed no outward signs of his nerves; a bright smile covered his face as he raised a hand, signalling to the section of the crowd cheering. For him, he hoped, but he couldn't be sure. Retreating from the gaming platform, Zaveri took up a position alongside Dr. Malon just as Ensign Fox took his seat opposite Dalal.::

Zaveri: I hope whatever plan you have works. Otherwise we're going to lose face here.

::Ilyazi turned glinting black eyes on the Zakdorn woman, but none of them wanted their foulplay to be revealed - preferably ever. And while they were talking foulplay, there was no reason not to add to it.::

Malon: Oh, I think you'll be surprised, Minister. Fox and I had a few games just before we came. He's...*quite* the Stratagemist. ::pausing for effect, putting on a sour expression:: He thrashed me without really trying.

::Well...he *would've* done, had they actually been playing. But Ilyazi was as good at boardgames as she was at currently trying to read Dalal - not very. Which was odd. Not exactly problematic...just odd.::

::Zaveri politely tried her best to look impressed. While she didn't want to belittle the doctor, Rodulans were not known galaxy-wide for their expertise in Stratagema... although the more she thought about it, the more she began to appreciate that some of the skills the two Starfleet officers had developed might stand them in good stead for the speed of wit that the game required.::

Zaveri: Well, let's hope he can repeat that performance against Dalal. He certainly doesn't look all that worried.

::Ilyazi let her eyes roam the grounds and the spectators, picking up general thoughts of confusion that they weren't about to see a match between the Zakdorn women, and confusion at the presence of Starfleet officers. One or two were blatantly angry that Fox thought himself capable of taking on a Zakdorn opponent, and the evil side of her was grinning from figurative ear to figurative ear. Let them be angry.::

::Of course, not everyone was angry. Some were simply jeering inside, laughing mockingly at the Stratagema wannabe. But Ilyazi had a lot more faith in Fox than any of them combined.::

Malon: ::eyes glinting at no one in particular:: ~ Remember that dinner I promised you... ~

Fox: ~ Only reason I'm smiling up here... ~

::She smiled inwardly at that.::

Malon: ~ You'll be fine. You know what you're doing. ~

::With the game just about to start, Ilyazi was happy to let Fox take control from the very start, and kept herself fairly well distanced from his mind to avoid interfering with his thoughts. Instead, she let the thoughts of those around her flock in...and Fox's, just in case.::

::But try as she might to read Dalal...it was like trying to eat a ball of fuzz. Every time she tried, she had to pull back and wash her mind clean of fluff. There just *wasn't* anything that she could gain from her. Fox wasn't faring much better. Sat but three feet away, he could feel Dalal's fury. A cheeky wink did little to brighten her spirits.::

Fox: ::Into his mic:: Minister Dalal, my name is Ensign James Fox of Starfleet. I'd like to first thank you for affording me the privilege of this game. I consider it quite the honour.

::Through piggy eyes, Vahini sneered at her Terran opponent, sizing him up. She was going to snap him like a twig and embarrass Starfleet in front of the simpering crowd of morons they had assembled.::

Dalal: ::With a crocodile grin:: Enjoy it while it lasts, *Ensign*. I do not anticipate that this game will take very long at all. Let me know if you require any assistance strapping your gloves on...

::She smirked at her comment and one or two laughs could be heard from the crowd as well.::

Fox: I'll offer you the same courtesy when it comes to taking the gloves off, Minister. ::Lifting one eyebrow:: They look a snug fit...

::Waiting for the green officer to set himself up, Vahini stared intently at the gaming table between them as the three-dimensional display initialised. With a high-pitched whine, strategically placed holo-emitters recreated the cuboid playing field high in the air above them; it began rotating so that the crowd could see the game from all sides. A timer appeared on the table in front of them, counting down to the start of the game. The Ensign looked confident, but Dalal was determined not to let that sway her.::

::Now that the game was almost at its start, the crowds settled down and Ilyazi picked out a strong undercurrent that had been drowned out by the mental jeering - it was hope. Hope that Fox would somehow win, and that the game might bring the two forces - Starfleet and Zakdorn - closer, more united. And it was that hope that spurred Ilyazi on to focus on the game again.::

::The moment the timer reached zero, Vahini launched into a ferocious attack on the central quadrant of the central plane, attempting to establish a solid foothold to allow her to expand her power base. She watched with pleasure as an area of blue began to spread. This was going to be easy; her opponent's green squares looked few and far between. She felt more confident by the second that he would fall to her out and out attack strategy.::

Dalal: oO So much for Starfleet...Oo

::The sudden onset of her attack took Fox aback. He regained his composure not a moment too soon; he rallied and simulataneously launched attacks on both the left and right quadrants, both of his hands blurring with the speed of his movements. Vahini's blue straight was soon flanked on either side by a steadily growing green zone. A green U shape had quickly formed. As the first conflict reached an impasse, the U shape slowly receded back into a straight line as both players fought to regain lost squares. ::

Malon: ~ You're doing good. ~

::And that was about as much as she could say. He was. Exceptionally. In fact, she was the one struggling to keep up with this. Which was a worry. A silent one. But a worry nonetheless.::

::Displeased at the failure of her first tactic, Dalal employed a sudden shift; while the focus had been on the central plane, the two outer planes were still relatively unpopulated. If Fox wanted to convert her blue squares into green ones, he would have to spend time focusing on the territory he had yet to conquer, which would afford her a chance to build a secondary power base in the corner of her nearest plane before expanding along through the three moving playing fields and into the one closest to the Ensign. She could not wait to see his face when blue squares began to crop up deep within his own territory. A smile began to cross her lips at the very thought of it.::

Dalal: If you want to forfeit now and save yourself some time, we would all understand...

Fox: And rob you of such an easy victory, Minister? Perish the thought....

::He was enjoying the trash talk more than the game. Fox had managed to maintain his air of confidence thus far but that first skirmish had been tricky; trickier than he'd like. And this was *with* Dalal underestimating him. The longer the game went, the better the PR. Dalal needed to win convincingly, he thought. If he could just hold on....::

Fox: oO Do we know what's coming, oh-guide-of-mine? Oo

Malon: ~ She's heading towards your playing area. Planning on invading from the inside. ~

::The game itself had been proceeding just as Dalal had planned. Fox had aggressively attacked Dalal, hoping to expand his green zone while she consolidated her power base and began circle around deep into Fox's nearest plane. Alerted to the danger by Doctor Malon, Fox shifted his attention to the threat, cutting off the incursion by splitting it in twain. He mopped up the blue squares stranded in his nearest plane but in doing so conceded all of the territory he had gained. A single bead of sweat rolled down his forehead as he struggled to maintain the stalemate.::

::Ilyazi wasn't a good Stratagema player, she knew. But she was counting on the spectators being experts. Even their fingers were twitching as if they had the gauntlets on themselves, playing the match.::

::And it was because of their enthusiasm that Ilyazi was able to pick on one of the spectator's thought and transfer their mental images across to Fox in a split second. All she could hope was that that individual was mentally playing for them...and that they were a better player than Dalal.::

::But better player or not, the mental imagery transferred into Fox's brain wholly changed his perspective. Before, he was seeing just Green and Blue. Now he was seeing innumerable shades of both; each shade helped instantly convey differing information and statistics. One light green square, it was clear to him, signified a 65% chance of being contested in the next turn. Furthemore it showed him that should it be taken it would offer Dalal a 72% probability of going on to capture the entire quadrant. He had such information and more on all 256 squares at every given instant and it was all very clear to him. Fox assumed this was his brain's way of coping with all of the processing power of the Zakdorn. Coupling his new reading of the game with his impressive dexterity, Fox fought back.::

Fox: Let's get started, shall we?

::Irritation about the fact that the Terran had dared to play possum against her was quickly replaced by a healthy dose of panic as Vahini saw a dangerous incursion into her own territory. She had seconds to respond before the map was washed green and her humiliation was complete. Feverishly manipulating her gauntlet, she surged outwards from her central power base, vying for control of areas that were less easy for him to defend. As the green territory rapidly expanded, she pushed for the lower edge of the central square and coloured the upper right hand corner closest to her. A two-pronged assault, while difficult to maintain, seemed to represent the best hope for the time being; it left her with options of spaces from which she could defend herself.::

Dalal: Terran pig... this is impossible!

Malon: ::to Zaveri:: What do you make of it so far? ::playing on the fact she knew little:: I'd already lost to Fox by this point. Is he heading in the right direction?

::Zaveri's eyes were positively gleaming with delighted surprise. She could hardly believe what she was seeing.::

Zaveri: I've never seen a non-Zakdorn play like this. Your Ensign is incredible! To hold a Zakdorn for over seven hundred moves! ::She watched for a moment, her head bobbing up and down as she carefully inspected the rotating 3D display.:: Although... he should probably watch out for his right flank if he wants to stay in the game. Dalal hasn't seen it yet, but if she does it will undo all the good work he just did...

::It was puzzling that Dalal hadn't seen that threat; nearly every spectator seemed to be looking at the same thing, some shaking their heads. Was it matchday nerves that were causing her a problem, or overconfidence?::

Malon: ~ Watch out for your right flank. You're vulnerable there. ~

::Fox's focus was entirely on the game; he mentally grunted an acknowledgement then reinforced his right flank. Ilyazi was right to warn him; had that section fallen there was a 78% chance of him losing the game within 24 turns.::

Dalal: ::Half under her breath:: I will not lose to a human...

::Seeing him reinforce his right flank, Dalal took a deep breath and forced herself to focus. She was mere moments from defeat. It was time for an all-out offensive. Kicking herself into a higher gear, she worked frantically to push all of her territories into wedge shapes, conceding squares where necessary to allow the tactic to form. Fingers moving into a blur, she waited for exactly the right moment before sending blue surging across the board in an attempt to break into the deepest areas of green colouring and disrupt Fox's considerable foothold from the inside. It was all or nothing now. If he saw through this tactic then she was finished...::

Zaveri: ::Gasping:: She's going to turn it around... such a shame. He was doing so well.

::Ilyazi flicked calm eyes on Zaveri, but on the inside, that little comment hadn't been appreciated. Still...::

Malon: ::infusing a lighthearted smile:: You don't know our Fox, Minister.

::The previously hushed crowd broke out into an array of conflicting conversation, some animated, some defeated, some cheering encouragement. Dalal's attempt to pull the rug out from under Fox was causing beads of sweat to appear on her brow and it was clear that she had very little left to give. If he could just survive her attack then the game was his, and the crowd knew it...::

::Fox felt the urgency of the crowd. Perhaps more accurately, he could see the urgency. Large swathes of his green zone had went from a dark, safe, green to a very pale green. At first his conscious mind struggled to interpret the sudden dramatic change in data. Then came the blue wedges, smashing into his squares like a cavalry charge. Fox instinctively reacted, staunchly defending the two outer quadrants while conceding the centre. Panic almost overtook him as even the outer quadrants buckled; slowly he stemmed the tide and pushed his own green squares forward and diagonally, encircling the lost centre quadrant. Fox couldn't quite believe what he was seeing as his frenzied hands dealt the killing blow; the blue central quadrant, under bombardment from all directions, suddenly shrank to the size of a penny then disappeared altogether. Game over.::

::Ilyazi had struggled to keep up with the mass of information and the speed of the game, and in the end, hadn't needed to. Fox, using instincts that should rarely be ignored, had fought the last battle and won with incredible swiftness. Even the images she'd received from some of the Zakdorn wouldn't have gotten him that victory. He'd won that one fair and square.::

::As she withdrew quickly from his mind, feeling a tiredness descend now that everything was over, she had to ask just how a human had managed to beat a Zakdorn.::

::It happened so quickly that Vahini didn't even have time to reach for the power control to disable the board before the win could be displayed above them. The crowd's roar of surprise was matched by her roar of anger and frustration; wrenching her hands from the gloves that controlled the game, she caught them as they fell into her lap and hurled them over the table at Fox, hatred burning in her eyes as the depth of her humiliation sunk in. Jeers and laughter from those she recognised as former supporters did nothing to improve her mood as she stood abruptly from her chair and turned her back to the audience, standing stock still as if about to explode.::

::Fox hadn't moved. Even when Dalal's gloves had been thrown into his face, he still sat quiet. The gloves themselves had barely registered to him; he felt rather disorientated now that his mind was his own again. The roaring of the crowd didn't seem real somehow. He felt disassociated from his surroundings, like he was watching it on a holovid.::

Fox: oO Ilyazi.....we have won, right? Oo

Malon: ::after a moment:: ~ Put it this way, you now need to decide where you want dinner. ~

::As some semblance of independent thought returned to Fox, he stood and offered his hand to his opponent. One final slap in the face.::

Fox: Good game.

::The defeated minister spat the words at him spitefully.::

Dalal: Do not patronise me, human.

::Remembering in that moment a comment that Minister Wadke had made in reference to the Vigilant crew, Dalal's eyes narrowed, but she held her tongue. She knew that the Minister would have been watching even though she was unsure of his current whereabouts. If her suspicions were correct, she had a feeling he would be making himself known very soon...::

Malon: ::turning tired but happy black eyes on Zaveri:: I told you our Fox was quite something.

Zaveri: I... I... yes, he most certainly is!

::The delight in her eyes was unfathomable. She was stunned, finding it difficult to process the fact that a non-android off-worlder had just accomplished what she had just seen accomplished.::

Malon: ~ Well done, James. Are you alright? ~

Fox: oO I think I'm going to throw up... Oo


_______________________________


JP by


Ensign James Fox
Helm Officer
USS Vigilant

&

MSNPC Minister Tamasa Zaveri
Zakdorn Assembly
Zakdorn IV

SIMmed by: Captain Diego Herrera
Commanding Officer
USS Vigilant

&

MSNPC Vahini Dalal
Aide to Minister Dakshi Wadke
Zakdorn IV

SIMmed by: Captain Diego Herrera
Commanding Officer
USS Vigilant

&

Ensign Ilyazi Malon
Medical Officer
USS Vigilant