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"Shattered Reflections"

By Alice C. Aldridge
Page 3 of 6

Travis lay there, barely conscious, as his life poured out in that filthy alley. The memories that had haunted him earlier spooled through his mind one last time, like a tally of good and evil. It hardly mattered. The words he'd once lived by, "Duty, honor, loyalty", had been meaningless ever since he allowed Servalan's ambition and his own blind obsession with vengeance to overrule his conscience. Not any longer. He coughed, tasting blood. He'd escaped her clutches at last and she'd have to hunt up another fool to use against the spreading wildfires of Blake's rebellion.

At least he'd repaid his debt to Maryatt. A life for a life. Or three lives, if you wanted to be exact. A cheap enough price to buy back his honor.

He writhed weakly, wondering when Latimer's men would close in for the kill. Surely he hadn't been lucky enough to finish off the last of them, particularly their leader. Scum like that always kept well hidden and out of range.

Drifting between in darkness, Travis was dimly aware of another long burst of blaster fire, then heavy footsteps halting at his side. He steeled himself for a boot to the head, knowing the slaver would undoubtedly vent his spleen before finishing him off. But, much to his surprise, he felt a tentative almost gentle touch attempting to brush the mud from his face.

"You bloody fool," a half-familiar voice berated him. "Why throw your life away on a fool's errand like this?"

He struggled to pierce the blood-hazed fog that clouded his vision, wondering who could have followed him to this backwater. Suddenly smooth, handsome features swam into focus.

"Carnell!" he spat, struggling weakly . "Go away, damn you . . . let me die in peace." As the puppeteer didn't seem inclined to move, Travis gasped, "Owed Maryatt my life. . .couldn't stand by. . .do nothing. . .not any more."

Carnell listened intently, before muttering under his breath. "Conditioning blocks are starting to slip and old loyalties resurfacing. Are the memory blocks weakening, as well?" Raising his voice slightly, he spoke to Travis, "What do you remember, Travis? Anything at all from Metis III? Lovers? Friends?. . .Family? 'Dining on fenris. . .before they dined on you' "

Travis started up in disbelief, hearing familiar words in a half-forgotten voice. "Dar...Dar?" then shrunk away, gasping. "But you're dead. . .over ten years dead."

Calmly the psychostrategist pressed a needle pad to his carotid and Travis slumped into unconsciousness. Carnell stood up, brushing the mud from his usually meticulous trousers.

"Memory blocks gone, as well. This does present a bit of a problem."

He glanced over at the medic standing discretely to one side and ordered sharply, "Do what you can to stabilize his condition. We'll be transporting him to a medical center as soon as matters are cleared up here."

Pulling the hood of his cloak up, the psychostrategist listened as the section leader of the squad trotted up and made a quick report.

"We fried one of the dockscum, but two others managed to escape. Do you want us to go after them?"

"No," Carnell retorted in dark amusement. "These ratholes are crawling with crimos. They'd draw you into an ambush and cut you to pieces." He glanced idly around the alleyway. "Any sign of the woman and children the Commander was escorting?"

"No sir," the section leader answered reluctantly. "But we're not that far from the freeport docks. She could have run for it when he was ambushed."

"Probably," The psychostrategist glanced down in distaste at his blood-smeared hands.

Little chance of ferreting her out of that warren of independent spacers and quasi-legal free traders. Well, Travis had paid a high enough price for the woman's freedom. Why thwart those noble intentions when it would gain him little in the way of Servalan's good will. Not when there were other, much more important matters to be dealt with.

The trooper watched as the medic worked on Travis. "D'ya think he'll last till we get back to HQ? Our orders didn't say he had to be brought in alive."

Carnell's eyes glittered with a sudden icy command. "My orders state otherwise, Section Leader. Have your men carry him back to the transport...carefully."

As the noncom saluted smartly then ordered his men to comply, Carnell pondered his next move.

Servalan had botched the ORAC affair badly, but managed to shift much of the blame for that debacle onto Travis. When they returned to Space Command HQ, he had ignored her orders to confine himself to quarters and instead left to rescue Maryatt's wife and children from the slaver's pens. Furious at his defiance, Servalan had ordered several squads out to apprehend him, dead or alive, forcing Carnell to act directly rather than relying on his usual behind the scene manipulation.

The troopers, being justifiably wary of the Commander's laser arm and ruthless reputation, had little incentive to bring him in alive. But Carnell's skills as a psychostrategist made made it child's play to coerce one of the squad leaders into including him in their manhunt and his insight into the fugitive's mindset quickly led them to the besieged officer.

Luckily Travis had been unconscious when they chased off Latimer's hitmen, forestalling any opportunity for him to be shot "while attempting to escape." Now it was simply a matter of applying the appropriate level of intimidation to remove him from their custody. Servalan might expect their prompt return with Travis's blaster-fried carcass but Carnell did not intend to allow her ambition interfere with his own agenda.

Travis's survival.

And his future as a tool of the puppeteers.

An agenda becoming increasingly difficult to achieve because of Travis's obsession with the rebel leader Blake. . .and Servalan's demand for his unquestioning allegiance despite her constant abuse of that loyalty.

He gazed down ruefully at the Commander's scarred and remodeled features, catching a glimpse of his own unmarked face in a broken window just beyond. The Clone Masters had done their work well, directed by his fellow puppeteers. Both he and Travis had been reshaped at their superiors' whims, leaving little of the two young men who had survived the crucible of Metis III. Only his ambition and Travis's implacable will remained. . . indispensable qualities if they hoped to survive the murky waters of Federation politics and the puppeteers' long range plan.

But the problem still remained of Travis's increasingly erratic and out-of-control behavior. More than anyone, Carnell was aware of the limitations of Federation conditioning, especially when attempting to reshape a strong will His attempt to eradicate Travis's early memories and replace them with the Alpha privileged background to match his remodeled countenance had been a dismal failure.

The Commander's recent actions demonstrated, without question, that the innate honor and decency of his upbringing on Metis III still survived in Travis, despite years of Federation indoctrination. But now his allegiance to Space Command was wavering as he lost patience with Servalan's faithlessness and ill-usage of his skills and intelligence.

It should be possible to reprogram Travis to be Servalan's weapon once again, but the effect would be less than satisfactory and break down that much sooner. His growing disaffection with the Supreme Commander's corrupt manipulations might even cause him to desert the Federation completely, becoming an outlaw or renegade, hunted and hounded by both sides with equal fervor. Measures would have to be taken if such an eventuality occurred; measures that would protect the Federation but also increase Travis's odds of survival and eventually draw him back into the puppeteers' web. It was a pretty problem and would require some careful thought.

As the squad of troopers reluctantly deposited Travis's limp body in the vehicle, Carnell dismissed them, "That will be all, Section Leader. I'll accompany the prisoner to the medical center. You can summon other transport for your return to base."

"But the Supreme Commander said we were to bring him straight back to Space Command HQ. . .if he was still alive," the noncom protested.

Carnell's eyes glittered with a sudden malice, "Are you questioning my orders, trooper?"

"No sir," he answered hastily, chilled by the unmistakable power radiating from the psychostrategist. "Not at all, sir."

Drawing back as the flitter hovered, the whole squad saluted sharply, though technically Carnell held no rank within Space Command. But the power and influence he wielded were unmistakable, even when he countermanded the orders of the Supreme Commander herself.

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