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Jabberwocky - part 2 - Mind-Rape

By Sheila Paulson
Page 3 of 23

      "And how are we feeling this morning?"

      Former President and Supreme Commander Servalan concealed her distaste at the mock-cheerful form of address. She had to tolerate these fools, at least for the present, but there would come a time when she would be on the ascendancy again, and things would revert to normal. When that happened, she would no longer be required to suffer fools, if not gladly, at least not in silence.

      "I am completely well, and I see no point in remaining in this medical centre any longer. I have work to do. The mindship must be recovered."

      The surgeon smiled. "So you have said, Lt. Sleer. Today you have a visitor for that very purpose."

      She hid her concern. If it was someone who had known her as Servalan, she would have to kill him, and that could be difficult, held here as she was in the base's medical center, pending an inquiry. She was fairly certain she could exonerate herself; after all being forced to do something at gunpoint was not the work of a traitor, and she had been severely wounded by the Mellanby girl, damn her, and had been weeks recovering her strength. Not that it had been time ill used, because in that time, she had devised a foolproof method of recapturing the mindship. She had only to detail enough of her plan to the right ears and she would once again be on the road to power. So she smiled a little, hiding her apprehension, and said, "How nice. Who is it?"

      "Supreme Commander Arpel himself."

      Arpel. Servalan knew of him by reputation, but they had never met. Would he recognise her? She had let her hair grow longer since escaping from Terminal, and while by no means long, it was longer than it had been when she was Servalan. This morning, bored and impatient, she had tested her disguise by curling it, and though the curls were almost as tight as Dayna's, it made a slight difference to the shape of her face. By avoiding eye make up, she could tone down her eyes, and while she hated to mute what she considered her best feature, anything that could alter her appearance was worth it, as it might mean her life. The unisex tunic and trousers she wore as a patient in the base hospital helped too. She looked disgustingly plain, and she had applied a darker cosmetic base than she usually wore, which gave her an off-Earth appearance. Even Arpel should not know her.

      "Oh, how lovely," she said. "Such a great man, to waste time with someone like me." Then as if it had been an afterthought, "Surely you don't think he blames me for the debacle with the mindship?"

      "The Supreme Commander does not confide in me," Dr. Melton replied and went to open the door. "Supreme Commander Arpel," he announced.

      Servalan knew that for the Supreme Commander to come here himself, it must be serious, and the loss of the mindship and its capture by Kerr Avon, one of the men whose work had helped in its development, could mean serious trouble. One man and one ship should not have been so great a threat, but that man and that ship together were dangerous, and no one but she knew just how dangerous. She planned to point it out to Arpel, to enable her to get her own way in its recapture. The mindship would be hers one day. If Arpel didn't agree, then Arpel would have to die.

      Arpel walked into the room with a long-legged stride that brought him to the bedside rapidly. He turned and gestured for Melton to depart, and the surgeon closed the door quickly with himself outside. Servalan smiled.

      Arpel turned back to her and regarded her with eyes that were even more piercing than Kerr Avon's. He was a tall man, several inches past six feet, and older than she had expected; his hair was grey and receding, but that detracted nothing from the strength he projected as he stood over her like a hawk. Servalan felt herself a victim about to be pounced upon, and she loathed the feeling. Arpel's eyes were brown and deep, a weak willed woman might drown in them, but that was a ludicrous flight of fancy. Servalan sat up straight and faced him down, a look of cool inquiry upon her face.

      Arpel smiled, baring predatory teeth beneath a small, neat moustache. His high-cheekboned face was alert and wore concealed amusement like a mask, and Servalan, who had often directed just such a look against unwitting junior officers and people she considered beneath her dignity, did not like to see it turned against herself. She decided that when she regained her power, Arpel, would be the very first to go.

      "Supreme Commander, this is indeed an honour," she prated, deliberately making herself sound like a gushing girl who found power intriguing.

      He glanced down at a small personal screen he held and read from it. "Your name is Lt. Sleer, and you were assigned to Space Major Rendall Weed on the Mark 60 project?"

      "That is correct, Supreme Commander. And a more botched project I hope I shall never again have to see. Major Weed was a psychopath who planned to steal the Mark 60 for his own glory, but who could not defend it from the rabble who actually did steal it."

      "Indeed?" Arpel sat down on the visitor's chair and propped his booted feet upon the edge of the bed. "Weed may have indeed been a psychopath - and I confess that I agree with you in that estimation - but he did speak highly of you, Sleer."

      "He was not entirely a fool."

      That won her a display of even more teeth than before. Did the man have more of them than normal humans? "You forgive him his insanity because he praised you?"

      "Naturally not," she replied impatiently. Damn the man, he was not going to be easy, and she could scarcely resort to feminine wiles to help her this time around. That left her with her cold intellect, which would be more than sufficient, but she would need to be very wary. Arpel could not have risen to the post of Supreme Commander in such a short time without a great deal of skill and mental agility, and she would need to play her hand very carefully indeed.

      "You passed off the leader of this 'rabble' as a visiting scientist, did you not?" he asked.

      "He had a gun in my back. I had no choice."

      "Oh, come, Lieutenant. An intelligent woman like yourself always has choices. Besides, it wasn't entirely a lie, was it? He was Kerr Avon. I've examined the tapes of the incident, and the officer he locked in the closet was able to provide a satisfactory description, plus information that Avon had given him that enabled us to identify him."

      "What information?" Servalan demanded suspiciously. "How could some fool on sentry duty have learned any such thing?"

      Arpel looked amused. "That's rather a good story, Sleer. It seems that the very popular game Ship and Asteroids - perhaps you have played it yourself - was programmed into the line of maintenance computers used on remote bases. Avon did much of the initial programming of such computers and he ran a line of computer games into the system. Games, I might add, that he developed himself."

      "What!"

      "Why are you so surprised? Surely you know the man to be a computer genius."

      "Yes, but games? It does not seem in character with what I have read of him."

      This was nonsense. She could no more imagine Avon designing the vastly popular Ship and Asteroids game than she could picture him dancing at her inaugural ball. Of course it must have been a great many years ago.

      "Ah well, perhaps not," Arpel agreed. He crossed one booted foot over the other one and took from his pocket a pipe that he began to fill with tobacco, a habit Servalan regarded with disgust. "Do you mind if I smoke?" He asked, a formality since surely no one would be expected to disagree with the Supreme Commander.

      "Yes, actually," she replied coolly. "I am recovering from lung damage."

      He left the pipe dangling from the corner of his mouth, but he doused the lighter. "Let us get down to serious business, Sleer."

      "Very well. I have a plan that will enable us to recover the Mark 60."

      "I thought perhaps you might."

      Now what did he mean by that? She smiled at him, though she wanted to knock his ridiculous pipe down his throat. Obviously he was not a native of Earth; dome dwellers did not habitually smoke because of the danger of fire in an enclosed environment, and only Alphas had the ability, or the power, to flaunt such rulings. If this man was a born Alpha, she would be astonished, but he had the steel trap mind of one; she could see it lurking behind his eyes.

      "I have worked closely with the Mark 60, Supreme Commander," she explained. "As yet, we had formed no real link with the computer/brain but had contented ourselves with test links tied to individual ship functions. The ship was rather - irreverent," she added with a curl to her lip. "The human brain involved retained some distasteful elements of its original personality, and Weed wanted to expunge them before a permanent link was made. However, that had not yet been completed. Avon stole the mindship, no doubt using the computer Orac to identify its location. Avon is, I am told, a cold and unfeeling man. It seems unlikely that he would submit to the mental union necessary in a linkage with the ship, and even more unlikely that he would permit it to form a bonding with one of his crew immediately."


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