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"Shattered Reflections"

By Alice C. Aldridge
Page 4 of 6

In a fury Servalan glared at the calmly smiling psychostrategist seated in her office. "You presume too much, Carnell! Why did you deliberately countermand my orders about the disposal of ex-Commander Travis? You know the man is dangerous."

"To whom, my dear Supreme Commander? The Federation's enemies...or you?" he countered urbanely.

Drawing so close he could see the heated glitter in her eyes, she demanded in a harsh whisper, "Just what did you mean by that, Carnell? Was it a threat of some kind?"

Despite her power within Space Command, the incident with Ensor and ORAC was raising some difficult questions from the High Council. There had already been one very unpleasant session with Councillor Rontane and a formal hearing scheduled for later in the week. She prowled around her office, seething at Carnell's arrogance, yet hoping his actions provided her with the scapegoat she would need to get the Council off her back.

"I simply wished to remind you of Travis's a brilliant, dedicated, and loyal officer." The puppeteer's bland smile was impenetrable, leaving Servalan wondering at the real purpose of this little tete-a-tete.

"A dedicated and loyal failure," she responded coldly. "Four encounters with Blake and nothing to show for it except a series of humiliating defeats and the loss of the most complex computer yet designed, with the ability to intercept our communications and decrypt our most subtle codes. Blake himself hardly considers Travis a threat anymore. Otherwise, why not kill him when he had the chance?"

She ran a provocative finger across the back of Carnell's neck before remarking in a calculating tone. "Quite frankly, Travis is of no further use to me...except as a sop to those pathetic fools on the Council."

Carnell arched a brow curiously, "So you've decided to relinquish control of Space Command's internal disciplinary actions into the hands of the Council ?"

She stiffened, a harsh brittle tone in her voice. "Travis's incompetence resulted in that debacle. Why shouldn't he be the one to face the Council's wrath?"

"Travis is a weapon, ma'am. Nothing more. He's only as good as his wielder."

"Are you implying his failures with Blake have somehow fault?" Servalan distanced herself from him, sitting primly behind her desk. There was a menacing archness to her question and the hostility in her gaze would have frozen a mutoid's blood.

But Carnell remained imperturbable, merely turning up the wattage in his smile. "Let's just say that you haven't employed his skills...all his skills... past and present, to your best advantage."

"And how do you propose I do that, Carnell? Someone has to answer to the Council for the mess surrounding Ensor and ORAC. Travis is the obvious choice. There will be little more than a few well-gnawed bones when they've finished with him."

"True, enough, Supreme Commander. If you allow them to usurp your perogatives."

"What are you saying?"

"Yielding any authority within Space Command to the Council is dangerous. It encourages them to probe into matters that do not concern them. Simply give them a factual report on the situation, stating that the officer responsible has been already been disciplined for his failure." Carnell steepled his fingers, smiling at her guilelessly.

Servalan's lush mouth was drawn into a thin, disapproving line. "What if they're not satisfied with my report and demand evidence of Travis's punishment? And exactly what punishment did you have in mind. . .so he will still be of some use to me?"

"Mindwipe . . .and personality reconstruction."

"I have enough mindlessly obedient drones, Carnell. I expected better from you." She glanced at him sidelong with cold disdain.

Carnell ignored that scornful look, drawing a small handheld chess computer out of an inner pocket and setting up an opening gambit. After a few moments, he spoke softly, "I've already ordered the surgeons to reconstruct his original features as much as possible, given the extent of scarring caused by Blake's weapon. To restore his baseline memories and personality will be a relatively simple psychomanipulation."

Servalan was aghast at the puppeteer's audacity, then quickly recovered her composure. "Of what use is an ignorant, half-civilized Outer World conscript against Blake? Particularly now that he has a sophisticated computer like ORAC and the technical expertise of Kerr Avon to maximize its potential for wreaking havoc throughout the Federation?"

Carnell studied his chess board thoughtfully. "Sometimes when technical brilliance and subtlety don't work, older, more primitive methods are necessary. Where sophisticated tracking devices fail, the stubborn persistence of a bloodhound...or the predatory skill of a hunting falcon will succeed."

There was a long silence, then Servalan regarded him with a calculating expression. "Perhaps you're right, Carnell. Perhaps we shouldn't have suppressed that primal predatory nature during Travis's retraining sessions after the neuronic amplifier was implanted. After all, his obsessive hatred of Blake was assured and the newly implanted memories you provided for him guaranteed his loyalty. Still, he was unstable enough during that time, any further internal conflicts might have rendered him useless."

She tapped one encarmined nail against her lips. "Very well, proceed with your plan to resurrect Travis's ruthless tenacity and animal cunning. It will be interesting to see how he fares against Blake's technical superiority."

"And the High Council's inquiries?" he reminded her.

"Space Commander Travis has paid the ultimate price for his psychic obliteration. What more could they want?" Her voice hardened. " And any further attempts to interfere in Space Command's affairs will not be tolerated."

She stared at him thoughtfully for a long moment, before continuing. "Don't leave just yet. This matter with the High Council is only the tip of the iceberg. They're becoming a thorn in my side, Carnell, and measures will have to be taken soon to deal with them."

Carnell looked up from his chess game, somewhat surprised that Servalan would bmaking her bid for power this early. His timetable did not predict such a move for at least another six months, when his influence on her actions would be more firmly established and Travis would have escaped the stigma of his earlier failures to capture Blake.

Putting the board aside, he listened carefully as she sketched out the technical summary just reported by the Weapons Development Center.

"They've developed a prototype molecular diffuser called IMIPAK. It's silent, invisible

. . .and totally lethal. With it I could eliminate my foes on the High Council in such a fashion that no one would suspect me. I want that weapon, Carnell. But no one else must know I have it or that it even exists." She turned on her most seductive smile, "That shouldn't be a difficult task for a puppeteer of your brilliance and subtlety."

"Not at all, ma'am," he answered that smile with one equally beguiling. "Not as long as you're willing to pay the going price for my expertise."

"You'll be paid, Carnell," the honey in her voice congealed. "When I see clear evidence you have an acceptable plan...and not before. And I want to monitor your handiwork on Travis as well. Show me he's regained that coldly ruthless competent edge he once demonstrated so clearly. Then we'll discuss an advance on your fee."

"At your command, Supreme Commander," He gave her a mocking salute and silently withdrew.


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