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A Question of Identity

By Jackie
What is the point of a society that has no means of self-defence below complete destruction?

 

Travis

 

Travis...

Servalan was puzzled by the message. She had assumed Travis had perished in the destruction around Star One. Where else would he have gone to, after Goth? She would have - for the power it represented: power was all that mattered.

Not that everybody appeared to think that way - as Avon had shown on Sarran. Something she could not understand.

Avon had not mentioned Travis' death - but that might mean nothing, given their brief contact.

So this could be Travis. But why now, and why refer to the Obsidian affair?

 

She would wait and see. If it was a one-off, she could ignore it.

If it was not...

She poured herself a drink.

 

****

 

Seeing is believing - or not.

Your records may reveal the secrets of Kairos.

 

Travis

 

Servalan was by now expecting such cryptic messages from Travis. He seemed to be pursuing her Presidential path, finding out things which nobody should know. Now she would have to find him - he knew too many of her secrets, and there was no knowing to whom he would communicate them.

*What had she missed with Kairos - and how could a computer, especially one like Zen, be fooled? Could she do devise a similar illusion?

 

****

 

*`Are the messages being read?'*

*`Yes. Replies are being sent according to the plan. Military-administrative terminology is fairly standardised.'*

*`And you now have a resident self proclaimed military expert who understands the jargon.'*

*`He is good at what he does.'*

*`It is what he thinks he can do that is the problem.'*

 

****

 

I was put on trial for the massacre at Zircaster.

Will you be tried for what you did to Auron?

 

Travis

 

Servalan was infuriated by the remark. No one had the right to judge her. Travis would never... Perhaps he was seeking revenge after what she had done to him on Freedom City, and calling him to heel on Goth.

 

If the messages were really from Travis. Yes, whoever was sending the messages knew things that only Travis was likely to know, but there were some strange gaps. Why? Was Travis - if it was he - somebody's puppet? It would not be the first time a President's position had been destabilised by subtle means - but she had been careful to prevent potential rivals from repeating what she had done.

 

There must be some way of determining whether the messages came from Travis. Some way that did not require outside help. Servalan had already undertaken one purge in trying to trace Travis's sources of information - paranoia was a survival skill in the Federation's upper echelons. And with the disruptions resulting from the war and the destruction of Star One, there were many individuals acting independently, some with strange agendas. Perhaps Krantor's reach was further than anyone expected. Who else could there be?

 

****

 

*`The messages have been computer-analysed for their correspondence to Travis' written mannerisms.'*

*`And?'*

*`Future messages will now reflect his style more closely.'*

 

****

 

All information on the Anna Grant affair had been suppressed, yet still there was a message.

 

Your checks don't seem to be working do they? They didn't even indicate Sula Chesku's intent - so why do you think they'd find me?

 

Travis

 

Servalan ordered yet another round of purges - there had to be leaks somewhere - but nothing was revealed. She would ignore the comments about the difficulty in finding replacements - more administrators could always be found - it just took longer these days.

Perhaps it was time to get technical help in extracting more information from the messages themselves...

 

`The messages have been stripped of all transit information Madam President. Only a computer expert could do this.' The woman had, before the Intergalactic War, been on the replacement staff list for Star One; presumably both trustworthy and expert. But - many like her were seeking work outside the Federation structures. One reason for taking action against the Teal-Vandor grouping.

`Like Kerr Avon the rebel?' The name would be familiar in the computing world.

`Yes,' the computing expert had agreed. `If he had sufficient computer power, like the proverbial Orac.'

`Orac?' Curiosity here was appropriate.

`A term used by computer experts, Madam President: a name used for testing communications. Also a theoretical supercomputer responsible for any otherwise unidentified interference.' There were many such ghost-entities in use, serving diverse purposes, as Servalan knew.

`Could anyone else do this?'

`Someone connected to those involved in the development of the original Star One systems, or capable of handling the more specialist fields of computer networks, such as Ensor, could have the relevant methodology. Or they could give someone such as Travis a method for carrying out the process mechanically...' Technobabble to disguise the lack of concrete information.

`Ensor disappeared so long ago he must be dead.' It was a logical deduction, even if she did not know the truth. Some of Ensor's work had been connected to the intended move of Central Control to Star One, and the means of disguising the links to the latter - and he had disappeared rather than being sent there or killed for his knowledge. The desire for survival was something Servalan could understand. `Find me a better answer.'

`Yes.' The computer expert left.

`She will be on the first ship she can that leaves Earth.'

`She is an irrelevance Carnell - there are others who will serve. Your comments?'

`Only the career soldier Travis, who would probably not have access to the relevant skills, or Blake would use Travis' name. Avon would work under his own name: he is currently operating independently of Blake, and does not appear to be promoting rebel matters. Until this person makes a direct threat, I can tell you nothing more.' He smiled. `No I have had enough of the wine, however excellent.'

`Where is Blake?'

`Again, I require payment in advance. You will also have to decide which Blake.'

`Explain.'

`The name has a certain resonance - which others make use of. Look at events on Jevron, for example.'

`That Roj Blake was a sham,' Servalan replied. She had gone to the planet in person - acquiring the Roj Blake would have been one of the crowning achievements of her Presidency. It had proved yet another false trail - one of many. She had kept the details quiet, in case it should prove of future use. Strangely Travis had made no comment on the matter.

 

****

 

The messages from Travis had ceased for a while. Servalan had considered the possibility that one of Anna Grant's group was behind the Travis affair. Or `whoever-it-was' was planning something different. Was it wiser to go to Sardos or to stay near the Federation centre?

 

Who knows now where the technology perfected on Sardos will spread.

How many computer programs will be copied?

 

Travis.

 

Travis would not have allowed the fiasco on Sardos to develop - in matters other than the Blake affair he was effective. Servalan would have to presume Avon had acquired the copying technology - but would pursue it for his own ends.

 

****

 

President Servalan was very politely "uninvited" from further participation in the Teal-Vandor contest after the deaths of Vinni and the elder Tarrant brother.

 

Travis' message reached her as the Presidential ship re-entered Federation territory.

 

Blake would be the rebels' champion - would you be the Federation's?

 

Travis

 

Servalan was not certain how she would answer the question.

 

****

 

Waiting in the base on Terminal, Servalan contemplated what she would do once she was ensconced on the Liberator in triumph. Kostos and the others here would be eliminated. Her body double, otherwise known as Commissioner Sleer, currently on Geddon to help quell unrest there, would be dealt with too. The Commissioner was beginning to get over-ambitious.

 

The computer indicated an incoming message.

 

Have you a plan for what happens should the rebels find someone they can unite behind, familiar to all?

 

Travis

 

Servalan, disconcerted, poured herself another drink, enjoying the familiar glow.

 

Who else could Travis be referring to, apart from Blake? Had he discovered something to open up the long cold trail?

Travis had once referred to an empty room diverting attention from the reality - but was what she had created on Terminal Avon's empty room or hers?

 

****

 

II

 

Commissioner Sleer

Your Commissionership will provide you with a place of refuge - but it could become a prison.

Beware.

 

Travis

 

Laconic, like all his previous messages. And, Servalan was now beginning to realise, quite possibly true.

 

Lacking the ex-Supreme Commander's military skills, Sleer-as-Servalan had died heading the army on Geddon - it was not clear what had happened on the planet, only that Servalan's enemies had exploited the situation. Since then Servalan had been forced to take on the Commissioner's role - a position which made no use whatsoever of her skills and abilities.

 

The problem was - Travis should not have known of the Commissioner.

There had been a Major who had served the same purpose - Travis had learnt of her existence during the Central Control fiasco, and could have deduced a successor, but how had he learnt of Sleer?

 

For probably the first time in her life Servalan felt afraid: the danger she now faced was not something she could define or analyse, as in a battle, or plotting to eliminate a potential rival. She needed to relax. The drink she had did nothing to calm her nerves. Travis the commentator on the Presidency was one thing - he had not been in a position to physically threaten her, and she had come to enjoy the almost teasing comments. Now he would be pursuing an agenda that she could not understand - and so could not plan for.

 

Being a Commissioner was frustrating. Servalan needed power and authority - not having someone like Brierley, her nominal superior, constantly investigating and interfering in what she was doing, blocking her rise through the administration. He was a teetotal killjoy, who would not let her enjoy herself - not that there was much to do in this backwater region.

Servalan had discovered, as a commissioner, the validity of the traditional complaint at the top of the Federation that alcohol - and other diversions - did for the lower administration what suppressant drugs did for the masses. When she returned to power she would "do something" about it. Her drinking was entirely under control, always had been.

 

She played with her glass - she had had enough for today. Brierley would have to go - joining all her other enemies, and anyone who might recognise her as Servalan. Which now included the survivors of the Liberator - if two had made it to Helotrix, she could assume the others probably had - though she would save Avon - and not just to find the still elusive Blake. Now, it seemed, the several games of cat and mouse would resume. Which she would enjoy more if she could work out who was cat and who mouse.

There were still some people known by the name Roj Blake who had not been traced by the time she had lost the Presidency. If she could locate the real one, her advancement as Sleer would be assured.

Perhaps she would have one last drink...

 

****

 

(from the files of Regional Commissioner Brierley)

 

Notes for report on Commissioner Sleer

 

The compiler of the previous report insists that it applies to Commissioner Sleer, despite apparently describing someone completely different. She lacks the contacts she implied she had. (Who would want to impersonate a Commissioner in this sector of the Federation territories?)

 

Her ambitions seem to be beyond her current capacities. The large-scale plans she suggests appear plausible, but she lacks the attention for detail and medium scale planning needed to carry them through, or advance through the intermediate grades to a position where she can implement such ideas. Nor will she provide me with the means of my own advancement: her pursuit of her ambitions will definitely harm my own.

 

Something upset her on Helotrix and there are disturbing hints about her behaviour from those around her. Will advise her to get a grip on herself. She shows a total lack of interest in art and the finer things in life.

 

Prospects: Should she continue in the present path, will suggest she consider a less demanding post. Preferably long before I apply for a more demanding one.

 

****

 

Commissioner Sleer

 

If I was setting up an alternative name and position as a means of escape, I would have chosen something more significant, more substantial, with better contacts. How will a lowly Commissioner in a back of beyond sector, achieve any position of rank? You relied on your connections to get you to a position where your ruthlessness could be effective, and you could make use of your abilities. What will become of you?

 

Travis

 

Servalan, disturbed at this suggestion of failure, poured herself a drink. It was one thing to think to herself that she had chosen the wrong option for her place of refuge, but another for someone else to make the same suggestion. Travis would have to be destroyed - once she could locate him. She would consider what to do with Avon and Orac, which, she now knew, had survived, when she had acquired them. They were too useful, and Avon too decorative, to yield up to the authorities.

She stumbled on leaving the office because she was tired - she was sleeping very heavily lately, and she never drank enough to affect her judgement. She would have to get rid of some of the bottles, in her office and in her quarters. Brierley would only extend his litany of unjustified complaints otherwise.

 

****

 

*`You are monitoring Servalan's activities?'*

*`It is a grotesque misuse of my capacities.'*

*`You prefer being her personal equivalent to Star One? No opportunities for private research?'*

*`Very well. Concerning your next question there are several persons who could answer your description of a figure to unite the rebel opposition. I am now researching their backgrounds.'*

*`Ever considered a career in recruitment?'*

*`And dismissed.'*

*`Any information on the other matter?'*

*`A possible match.'*

*`Investigate. Inform me when you have something that is more than 95% certain. And correlate with other sources.'*

*`Tracing things through the pattern of infinity can rarely achieve that degree of accuracy.'*

*`Considering the claims you make...'*

*`Very well.'*

 

****

 

Servalan had wondered after the events on Domo if she was losing her touch: there had been other failures besides. She had had the illegal slave market suppressed - more out of personal interest than to uphold the Federation's law. She did not want Verlis and the others being added to those who could potentially threaten or blackmail her - and their agendas could not be subverted to her, or Federation purposes. Brieley had praised her for her action in eliminating the "den of iniquity" and financial activity outside the Federation's taxation system. If Brierley had been aware of the full extent of the Commissioner's activities, he might have viewed matters differently. She was completely sober by the time she returned to base, even if she had celebrated victory over Avon and then mourned his and Tarrant's passing with a drink or two. The disappearance of Cancer was of less interest to Brierley than it was to the assassin's competitors. Servalan had been allocated Verlis' goods as a reward - which provided useful revenue to further her ambition.

 

Avon and his colleagues persisted in eluding her. Her office colleagues - provincial boors for the most part - enjoyed prospects denied to her. She suspected jealousy of her connections with the central administration: comments about her drinking and seemingly futile attempts to deal with important rebels were merely a smokescreen.

Servalan remembered how Travis had never been able to destroy Blake, regardless of opportunity. She found the various sources of stress difficult to handle - she was not being given a chance to use her talents to their full measure. It was stress that caused her morning headaches, nothing more. Things kept on going wrong. Travis' messages continued, the taunting element increasing.

She drank to relax, nothing more. She was always able to manage her alcohol consumption

 

****

 

(from the files of Regional Commissioner Brierley)

 

Notes for report on Commissioner Sleer

 

Still seems not fully capable of carrying out her actual job. (Including finding out what can be used to manipulate others. There is nothing she can use on me.) Will suggest she stops investigating her private topic of interest whatever it is. Everybody else knows where to draw the line - and know when to abandon unprofitable private interests.

 

Four of her last seven projects went awry, and I am still awaiting satisfactory explanations. Will start making a note of all the hints those around her make about Sleer and the problems she is having. Too many to be just infighting between my subordinates for my position when I get promoted. (Note - check through my own files of comments on those around me: two Supervisory Regional Commissioners jobs are falling vacant.)

 

Sleer has stopped her teetotal pretence. Shall remind her that it is not done to appear the worse for wear at work too often. Will continue making enquiries about placing her in a less stressful job. Let some other Regional Commissioner's career be thwarted.

 

****

 

`Your handling of the events involving the Feldon crystals and the situation on Virn were not satisfactory at all. And there is now no way Justin's data can be analysed. Explain.' Brierley demanded.

`There were other factors,' Servalan said, knowing how lame the excuse sounded. She could imagine what the response would be if she said that she was having her performance commented upon by someone who appeared to be no more substantial than a ghost. And she could not remember quite what had happened on Virn - Tarrant had been there, she was sure of it.

`People always seem to be wandering in from nowhere and spoiling your plans. If you want to advance, Commissioner Sleer, you have to take these factors into account, and pay attention to detail.'

Servalan stifled a comment about the insolence of the remark.

`Yes sir,' she managed to say demurely.

`Your handling of the attempted theft of the black gold carried on the Space Princess was, however, satisfactory.'

`Thank you.' She would have to accept this faint praise: and circumstances had meant that she could not take the usual "finder's fee." When she returned to power, she would take revenge on this man personally.

`You understand what is to be done in the Betafarl region?'

`Yes - keep the various parties in a state of tension and disagreement with each other, until the Federation are in a position to exploit the situation by stepping in to restore stability.' As she had been attempting to do with Vinni when she had been the Neutral Arbiter in the Teal-Vandor conflict. She intended to turn the situation in the Betafarl region to her own advantage. `Then eliminate Zukan and take advantage of the conflicts that arise, by offering to restore order.'

`If you do this right, Commissioner, you may find your career opening up...' Which, she had been given to understand, would ensure, would involve her being moved. The implications of failure had already been made clear to her: a career in dead end jobs until she finally retired.

`I assure you, I will.' And she would also achieve... something else, if things went according to plan. She was going to get Avon, and get him to join forces with her. Not that she would tell Brierley yet. Not even if he got her drunk. She had never been drunk.

 

She went to her rooms to develop her plans. Including having her Commissioner's budgetary allocation increased. Part of it was financing her ambitions - and the rest went quickly enough. Particularly the money she used to entertain those who might help her - they expected the best wine, and lots of it. Naturally, it would be inappropriate to let them drink alone. Of course she didn't have a problem. She could stop drinking whenever she wanted.

She decided to finish the half-empty bottle.

She had a headache when she awoke because she had dozed off in the chair.

 

****

 

*`How are things developing with the Commissioner?'*

*`She has not been able to develop a power base from which to rise, and her immediate superior is dissatisfied with her activities. I have access to her personal accounts.'*

*`Anything interesting - blackmail, bribery, whatever?'*

*`All information is useful.'*

*`Can you be bribed?'*

*`What are you offering?'*

*`A research period without being disturbed. The other subjects?'*

*`These geographically related local leaders have agreed to negotiations, and Blake's location has been confirmed. Servalan's list of possible candidates was most useful. And the best location for a conference of the other two hundred and fifty three people called Roj Blake is...'*

*`No wonder it was so difficult to find the one we want.'*

*`There was a popular singer of that name at the time. There are also sixty five Kerr Avons, eighty nine...'*

 

****

 

Servalan could see the two men transforming into skeletons...

Again... Avon was chasing ... someone through the shuttle.

 

`No!' she shouted, and awoke in the dark.

Her heart was beating hard, her breathing loud and rapid, she was sweating with fear, and some part of her mind recognised she was having a panic attack resulting from a nightmare.

Again.

She had been cutting back on her alcohol consumption, so she would have a clear head to further her plans to use Zukan and the situation there to her advantage. Not that she had a problem, whatever Brierley's hints on the matter.

What had happened?

Yes - Malodaar - on her route to Betafaarl, investigated as part of the Federation re-expansion program. A base deserted except for two skeletons and some equipment, use unknown.

Avon had never been there, there was no such thing as a tachyon funnel, and there was no fake Orac, Egrorian or Pindar.

It took a long time to get back to sleep: perhaps a drink would help...

 

In the morning her reflection in the mirror was paler than she expected. She did not need the holiday Brierley was

likely to suggest. She needed a drink.

 

****

 

`It appears that the woman on Betafarl identifying herself as Zukan's daughter Zeeona was an impersonator. No trace of her has been found. It is assumed she returned with the person identified as Avon,' the report went.

`No!' Servalan wailed, and threw her glass at the wall. There was nothing else to do while she was waiting.

She had lost. Zukan was dead - by her hand, not that anyone would know. Zeeona was presumably dead wherever Avon's base was - she would find out shortly, using the hints provided by Zukan. Whoever emerged from the infighting that would now probably occur on Betafarl would have all the guile and skill of his predecessor - rather than the slightly naive young woman Servalan had intended to use to establish a forward base in the region. Even Brierley would have been forced to admit that having a new leader on Betafarl willing to accept the Federation's direction was an acceptable outcome.

 

She was left with the worst of all situations - she had failed to achieve her own goals, or abide by Brierley's imposition. No, she thought, as she considered the open bottle, perhaps not the worst - Avon might survive, and she could use all her charms to persuade Brierley to investigate details she would provide him with of the rebel. There was only one likely claimant to being the real Roj Blake now. The problem now was finding him.

 

By the time Brierley's angry message requesting the Commissioner's urgent return arrived, Servalan was no longer even attempting to conceal her drinking. The ship's captain decided to follow Brierley's orders rather than the Commissioner's to go to an unremarkable planet for a reason he knew she would not divulge, even if she was in a fit state to do so.

 

****

 

`Commissioner Sleer - you have ruined five years of careful manipulation on our part in the Betafarl region. Zukan has been eliminated prematurely - and his neighbours will have carved up most of his territories long before the Federation can take advantage of the situation. It will take years to get the situation ready for our involvement again.' Brierley was furious - and doing his best to minimise the impact on his own career. He had made it quite clear that the Commissioner had become very expendable.

 

`I was attempting to bring in a group of rebels as well...' If only she could remember precisely what had happened. She felt slightly queasy, and her hands were sweating - she had to concentrate to stop them shaking.

 

`No doubt the same ones who have thwarted your earlier projects,' Brierley said contemptuously. `I told you, you should have passed on such information to others who are not doing so much as you.' And who appeared to be more successful. `You had better tell us everything you know about these supposed rebels... You will be relieved of your duties until you do so.' Perhaps he could shock the Commissioner into sobering up enough to make sense. Brierley judged the Commissioner had not yet fully recovered from her excesses of the return journey. She was bleary eyed, pasty-faced, bloated and looked sick.

 

Servalan felt sudden despair. All her plans were going wrong - and she needed a drink. Now. She could control her drinking whenever she wanted. `What about supervising the Pylene 50 project?' A desperate attempt to salvage something.

 

`Will be passed to others - and we will fully analyse the information on the project.' Putting together the hints he had had about its intermittent effectiveness, and Sleer's present behaviour Brierley was beginning to have doubts about continuing the project. `There are reports that an antidote is available - what use is a suppressant drug which ceases to be effective as a result of rebel activity? Imagine the consequences Commissioner - and start giving me information.' Perhaps the Commissioner herself had leaked the information.

 

Servalan felt furious but could do nothing.

`The rebels include Roj Blake, and Kerr Avon, and their associates. They are on the planets Xenon and Gauda Prime...' She knew how Avon operated, what he would be doing - and she would arrange to get the credit. And given the state of affairs on Gauda Prime Brierley might well be removed from the situation without it reflecting on her. She had to have a drink. Or two. She would have to cut back on her drinking Again. But not right now.

 

When Servalan was confined to her rooms she was glad to find her stores had not been removed - though there were fewer bottles than she remembered. She put in an order for more. How would she pass the time now?

 

****

 

From: Regional Commissioner Brierley

To: Planetary Records Central

Subject: Planet Xenon

 

Please see attached report on the above planet.

 

The present technological capacity of the locals is not sufficient to have produced the hydroelectric power station (location A) and other resources to be found (locations B-M). Who inhabited the now destroyed base (location N) is unclear, but, according to the locals, some of whom can speak Federation Standard, they left in a spaceship within the last two weeks. No further information available at present.

Action: Initial survey being undertaken. No climatic or other control needed.

Possibilities for development: agricultural use seems indicated.

 

From: Planetary Records Central

To: Regional Commissioner Brierley

Subject: Planet Xenon

 

Your report has been received.

 

From: Regional Commissioner Brierley

To: Planetary Records Central

Subject: Planet Gauda Prime

 

(Two days after Open Planet status revoked)

 

Please see attached report on the above planet.

 

I would further like to add that the military presence's statement that nobody would try to kill or kidnap me because I did not carry a bounty is most undiplomatic. Their claims that the problems are under control is manifestly untrue - several unpleasant incidents occurred (see Appendix A). The escape of one group of undesirables occurred before my arrival (see Appendix B). Comments made by troopers and others stating undesirables' base as being superior to their own barracks: see Appendix C. (List of equipment and other resources on the base, see Appendix D.)

 

From: Planetary Records Central

To: Regional Commissioner Brierley

Subject: Planet Gauda Prime.

 

Your report on the above has been received.

 

Please quote the following reference in any future discussion on the subject.

 

For complaints about the military please contact the appropriate department in Space Command.

 

From: Regional Administration Records

To: Regional Commissioner Brierley

Subject: Planets Xenon and Gauda Prime.

 

Your most informative reports have been received.

 

Congratulations on a job well done (all paperwork correctly laid out and presented), which will count towards your application for promotion.

 

Current Federation financial policy dictates that priority is given to planets which have significant resources, require minimal investment for development, or which have strategic value. You will be familiar with the relevant regional development boards if you wish to personally get involved in the development of Xenon. There will be the usual bonus for identifying such planets.

 

 

For reference purposes only

This following message has been intercepted.

From: Travis.

To: Commissioner Sleer.

What about the rebels, my friend?

Message number 416.

 

****

 

*'You are sure the message reached its destination?'*

*'You wished Servalan's superior be made aware of the communications she has been receiving. That has been done.'*

 

****

 

`Xenon and Gauda Prime have been investigated. There was no sign of your rebels on either planet. Explain.'

Why was Brierley talking so loudly? `The rebels were there...' Servalan found it unpleasant that she was not being believed. How soon before she could pour herself another drink without Brierley making a comment?

Perhaps she had had enough already. Her alcohol consumption was not an issue, even if she had mis-stepped on entering the room. All the other problems - including the headaches she woke with - were due to stress. If she were to seek medical advice, Brierley would make full use of the opportunity.

`Perhaps they were, but left. Perhaps you - or Travis - warned them.'

Servalan was puzzled. `Travis?' She slightly slurred the word. Had Travis and Blake, of all people, linked up? And she had thought Travis spoke only to her.

`He sent a message - it appears he knows you.' Brierley consulted his notes. `A very interesting character - if it is the man in the records. Travis was a member of the military put on trial for mass murder, and sentenced to be dishonourably discharged from the army and executed. Initially thought to have perished in the attack on Space High Command, he was spotted variously thereafter, but not since the Intergalactic War.'

`I am a civilian,' Servalan reminded her superior. Which had been a hard act to maintain, given the years she had spent in the military. And given the calibre of the present officers' corps - it was difficult to stop herself attempting to take over and organise things in the military better.

`He calls you his friend - and you were in touch with him.'

`An accident - I don't know why...'

`He refers to previous messages. Which you have deleted. We have evidence of that. Why were you in touch with him?'

`He claimed to know where Blake was...' An outright lie - which hopefully could not be disproved. But it would be plausible, given Travis' well-documented obsession.

`And if Blake and Avon were ever on Xenon or Gauda Prime, they have gone. Travis was connected to the late, unlamented, President Servalan. You have been to several places where her few remaining associates have been - and they have died. Is there any connection?'

`Circumstantial evidence.' She was being trapped, and knew it. When had she poured the drink? And why was it shaking around so much?

`Why did you not report the messages, this information, to your superiors?'

`I wanted to take advantage of it myself.' That was true - and Brierley would do the same, as they both knew.

`After all your other failures? You could have led the expeditions to Xenon and Gauda Prime,' if she had been in a position to act after Betafarl, was the implication, `before this and caught the supposed rebels yourself...'

`And been given a token reward to keep me happy.' She knew the procedures - and had seen what it did to people like Coser - and there were many as thwarted as he had been these days - due to lack of Federation resources, there were only limited opportunities for advancement. She needed a clear head to plan her counter-attack. And another drink.

`Virn, Bucol Two and the others could be explained away, but you rendered the Betafarl Policy unworkable, and prevented us from properly investigating some potential rebels. Action will be taken accordingly...' Brierley pronounced. He looked at the Commissioner for a few moments, then at the bottle she had brought with her. `You, Commissioner, have a problem. Consider your options.' He left.

 

Servalan was finally able to pour herself a drink. Perhaps another one to calm her nerves.

She could not remember afterwards how she had got to bed.

 

****

 

*`How can I operate effectively if I am not informed of what happened?'*

*`If you had kept everyone fully informed, we would be more willing to tell you.'*

*`Your failure to communicate is not my responsibility. Everybody survived and can continue their activities. What more do you want?'*

*`How long a list do you want? Terminate the Travis plan. It has served its purpose.'*

*`If you insist. Human curiosity can be remarkably limited.'*

*`Do you wish to be the subject of my very thorough curiosity?'*

*`Servalan was willing to pay a hundred million credits for me, and my creator claimed I was worth ten times as much...'*

*`If we considered selling you, we'd blank you first.'*

*`I must protest. A grotesque act of stupidity... Incalculably reducing my monetary value, and what I can actually provide... And we have a working relationship ...'*

*`Then be a useful junkheap and tell us about Servalan-as-was. And find us a decent new base.'*

*`We have discussed Project Re-organise Rebellion. Initiate that.'*

*`Very well.'*

 

****

 

`Commissioner Sleer. This further message from Travis says you are not as assiduous as you should be in chasing the rebels,' Brierley said.

`He is trying to destroy me.' Servalan was aware that she was whining. She was very uncomfortable, and drowning in self-pity. She had lost track of her drinking lately, only that she had nothing left in her room. She now acknowledged she might have a problem. Everything was going wrong anyway, so she might as well drink like everybody else. No wonder the Federation was having such problems, with the Pylene 50 project being abandoned and people of talent, such as herself, being marginalised.

`Why? You are a civilian. And he claimed friendship, while you deny anything of the sort.' Brierley said, mockingly.

`He hates me, holds me responsible for what happened to him at his trial.' Servalan was aware that she sounded maudlin, poured the next drink regardless. Where would she get another bottle? She hoped she didn't look as ill and bloated as she felt.

`Why? What have you to do with Space Command?' There was limited overlap between the military and civilian administrations at the lower ranks - another factor that had made it difficult for Servalan to adapt to her new role.

There had been trigger phrases for the destruction of key Federation's records under the control of the Supreme Commander and the President should there be an attack on Central Command and other major installations, to thwart what might be done, and allow the leadership to arrange a counter-action in the resulting confusion. Would those issued to Servalan still be effective? What were they? Her glass was empty - so soon? She picked up the bottle again - but there was nothing left. And she had nothing in her room. She needed a drink. She felt very uncomfortable. What would she do?

`Because,' she remembered the beginning of the trigger phrasing, `I am President and Supreme Commander Servalan...' Slurring her words - and she still could not recall the rest. She felt extremely dizzy and queasy, and she could not focus on Brierley.

`Prove it.'

Servalan managed to stand, and, from Brierley's change in expression, was able to summon her old presence again. Then, humiliatingly, she found herself sliding gracelessly to the floor.

 

****

 

From: Supervisory Regional Commissioner Brierley.

To: Federal Central Administration Records.

Subject: Ex-President Servalan and Commissioner Sleer.

 

Please check if there are any connections between the above two persons.

Images of the latter enclosed.

 

No further communications from Travis.

Reports on recent rebel activities - possibly connected to Roj Blake and associates enclosed.

 

From: Federal Central Administration Records.

To: Supervisory Regional Commissioner Brierley.

Subject: Ex-President Servalan and Commissioner Sleer.

 

Please see attached. No known connection between the above two persons.

No images of Ex-President Servalan available, for reasons undisclosed. Makes a change from investigating those who claim to be Roj Blake or one of his associates. Please quote the indicated reference in any future discussion on the subject.

 

The Travis file will remain open for two years.

 

From: Central Personnel.

To: Supervisory Regional Commissioner Brierley.

Subject: Commissioner Sleer.

 

Medical report indicates Commissioner Sleer had an alcohol-induced fantasy of being Servalan, whose rise to high office she wanted to emulate.

 

Action: Commissioner Sleer will be sent to Earth, to be given appropriate treatment for her problems.

 

No further action needs to be taken on your part.

 

****

 

(from the files of Supervisory Regional Commissioner Brierley)

 

Notes on Commissioner Sleer

 

I will almost miss her.

 


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