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The Measure of Affection

By Ros Williams
Page 4 of 62

CHAPTER THREE

The strategy itself was soon worked out and then Carnell returned to Servalan, who welcomed him with a charming smile and eyes glittering with excitement. Carnell wondered casually if she had in mind to seduce him yet, or whether she was still determined to be cautious. "The strategy," he said, "is with your aide." The aide was, he had noticed in passing, young, goodlooking, and rather green.

There was a screen on one wall of her room, to which she could transfer data if she chose. She activated it and on it flashed a simple representation of Coser and Blake. "That," Carnell said, "is merely the key. One has to have a key, you understand."

"Talk me through it," she commanded. "I want to hear your comments."

"Very well." As the titles of the sections came up, he detailed them briefly. "To induce in Coser a hatred of his colleagues and an admiration for Blake - an admiration which he will think he recalls from the days when Blake was politically active on Earth... To destabilise Coser and induce him to leave with the weapon... To ensure that he leaves alone so as to induce total psychosis... To ensure the ships on the Weapons Research Establishment are all of a similar range, fuelled for a certain distance only... To ensure that all habitable planets within that range are deserted... To produce a facsimile of Blake who can safely take the weapon from Coser... To provide Blake with provocative data on the Weapons Research Establishment so as to prompt him to have a special interest in it... To advise Blake when Coser leaves so that Blake will follow him... To ensure Blake does not know what IMIPAK is, so that he is excessively curious... To wait for Blake, to mark him, to send him away...and then activate the weapon and kill him without damaging the Liberator...

"You will see," Carnell said, "that Coser is to be allowed to indulge his inferiority complex to the point where it becomes an obsession."

"Is it necessary," Servalan asked, "to go to the extent of providing a clone? That will be very difficult, and expensive."

"I did not say the strategy would be cheap," he reproved coolly. "If you want the best, you must pay for it. The clone - or something similar to a clone - is necessary. You will realise that Coser will be near-insane on his lonely hideout. Do you imagine he will give his only defence - his precious weapon - to you?"

"Probably not..."

"He would mark you," Carnell said relentlessly, "and then he would kill you. He would never allow you near him. Believe me."

She did. "Very well. And where do I obtain the clone? The Clonemasters are near-inaccessible, these days."

"It is up to you to persuade them," he said. " You will have to arrange it somehow. Or do you require another strategy for that?"

More money, she thought angrily. "No!" she snapped. "I will see to it." She supposed it would be possible, with some bribery or considerable flattery. The Clonemasters were, she remembered from slight contact with their organisation, susceptible to flattery. They saw themselves as slightly saintly. She thought them much more than slightly ridiculous. "What of Travis?" she continued.

"You have insisted that he should accompany you. That presents a problem - for he will kill the clone the instant he sees it."

"He must be told in advance..."

"He may not be convinced. He is unstable, and growing more so all the time. The longer Blake escapes him, the worse he will get. He cannot be trusted."

"Are you telling me he cannot accompany me? I expressly informed you that he must!" she exclaimed angrily.

"That is understood," he told her calmly, and waited a moment for her to relax. Then he continued. "Travis must be conditioned. You will acquire more clones. Travis must be allowed to kill... The catharsis will hold until after you have seized the weapon. After that, it will not matter what happens to the remaining clone; and no doubt you can allow him to kill Blake as well - if you so decide."

"Perhaps I will," she murmured, smiling spitefully.

Bitch! he thought. He studied her with interest, noting the elegant gown which was both becoming and singularly revealing. He had no doubt it had been designed especially to please...and probably especially to please him. He wondered what her staff thought of her blatant, sometimes almost overpowering sexuality. It was, he imagined, no wonder there was a ready supply of young men to please her: if she did not choose them herself, they would be provided for her by some wise aide. He found her desires amusing and titillating but he still had not decided whether he would take her. Whatever happened, he would choose the moment, not Servalan.

"You are sure Blake will come?" she continued.

"That's the easy part. He won't be able to stay away. He'll have to know what IMIPAK is...what it can do, in case you could use it against him."

"As I shall," she smiled. "How delightfully apt, Carnell."

"I thought that you would like it."

"And the other one, Blake's friend. He must come too."

"You have not," he pointed out slyly, "indicated which friend you have in mind."

"But you have not asked, Carnell. Why is that? Are you unable to give me the friend?"

He laughed. "I did not need to ask, Supreme Commander, for there's only one other man who could interest you. Oh, he'll probably come, but I can't guarantee it. I am afraid you will have to accept that uncertainty."

"I won't accept it!" she flashed. "I am paying you..."

"My account for the next stage is with your aide," he countered. "I trust you will see your way to settling it - very promptly." He spoke civilly, but with just a touch of asperity, enough to impress the matter on her mind without alienating her. "As for Kerr Avon, I cannot say for certain which of his companions Blake will choose to bring to Coser."

It was not true. He could have devised a strategy which would certainly bring Avon to her...but he was not willing to do so. He had given her almost everything she wanted, and that last she must do without...he hoped. And if Avon allowed curiosity to get the better of him, if Avon came with Blake rather than the revolutionary Cally, then Avon would die and there was nothing Carnell could do to save him. It would be a...waste. "Wait and see," he said. "I expect you'll get him."

"You'd best hope I will!" she snarled.

He'd expected her to be annoyed...so he was not concerned. And, perhaps fortunately, it delayed the matter of a possible seduction. Would it, be wondered idly, be more amusing if he seduced her, or if she seduced him? Really, it hardly mattered once he'd decided to have her. It was the decision he had to take, and he had not taken it yet.

Nor, it seemed, had she, since she let him go after a few more questions. He suspected she thought he would stay on the base for a while, but he did not. He left immediately, before she had time to realise what he was doing. The simple fact was that he had better things to do than hang around waiting for her to shoot questions at him, let alone hang around whilst she ruminated over the matter of his physical charms. He knew she would be piqued, and the thought pleased him. He also knew she would send for him again when she was ready, and again they'd play their games of question and answer, cat and mouse; and which was the cat and which was the mouse she at least had no idea, whilst he most certainly had. Servalan would not, ever, control Psychostrategist Carnell: Carnell was far too experienced, too knowing...too well-trained to fall under the spell of the likes of Supreme Commander. There might be a woman somewhere who could hold him, but she was not Servalan.

 


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