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The Measure of Affection

By Ros Williams
Page 2 of 62

CHAPTER TWO

Carnell was, to put it frankly, extremely annoyed. Interrupted in the middle of a most fascinating strategy, wrenched away at a vital moment, forced to hand over his work to a colleague and embarrassed by having to explain to his client that there were times when even he was forced to obey a superior's order, he was not in the best of tempers when he finally reached Space Command. Still, it would not do to show his anger to Supreme Commander Servalan and he looked his usual cool, relaxed self as he left his ship and was escorted towards the Supreme Commander's personal quarters.

He knew Servalan slightly in a social context. She was a goodlooking woman and he supposed he'd have slept with her if the occasion had arisen, but he could not say that he found her irresistible. Indeed, there were few women he found irresistible, though many he found desirable...and it was not often he failed to get those he wanted. You couldn't expect to win them all and the occasional failure hardly worried him. Women were, he felt, fair game, and an excellent relaxation; but he'd never put women before politics nor before his profession. There were always limits to...stupidity.

Love? Well, you had to expect that now and again. The thing was to accept it and enjoy it and if for some reason the woman resisted, you'd just have to accept the failure as well. It was just one of those things, human nature, and Carnell was fascinated by human nature. It was his abiding passion, studying people, and his genius...manipulating them.

Fortunately, he was not going to fall in love with Servalan. She was definitely not his kind of woman. Understanding himself was the first aim of a psychostrategist, and he knew, from start to finish, how to deal with Servalan's erotic fancies. There was no doubt of her erotic fancies with regard to Carnell: Gort had told him about that and he'd not been in the least surprised for Servalan's proclivities were well-known and her savagery when she did not get what she wanted well documented. It would be easy to manage her sexually.

Not so easy, though, to control her when it came to holding to a strategy. Like Gort, he was not in the least enthusiastic about having to deal with her. He'd studied her personality in the past - she was obligatory subject matter for his Institute as a matter of course - and had seen immediately the tendencies towards self-aggrandisement, deceit in her dealings with anyone who annoyed her, and the appalling and disastrous determination to foist the responsibility for her own failures on to someone else.

Still, she was a good-looking woman, well-made, exceedingly sensual and always attractive on the eye. He supposed he'd enjoy that - if nothing else. He'd probably sleep with her eventually - when it suited him.

"You'll remember me, of course," she said to him.

"Of course." He smiled with an outward show of enthusiasm, cleverly flattering.

He has a ready smile, she thought appreciatively, ready, yet a little secretive. What does he think behind those dazzling blue eyes of his? She remembered well his superb physique and his clipped, patrician voice which could be soft and warm or icily hard as the mood took him. He was a graceful, commanding man, supremely attractive, supremely desirable... Still, she'd save that for later. Blake and the weapon must be discussed first. "You will know about Blake," she said.

"The terrorist? Certainly. A pernicious nuisance, and a thorn in the side of High Council. You are under orders to destroy him." It was a statement, not a question. Psychostrategists were given access to all but the most exceptionally secret of Federation files, and even the most secret could...quite often...be breached, one way or another. Carnell had little doubt he knew more about Blake than even Servalan herself knew, not just because of his sources but also because his talents at analysis would tell him so much she could never even guess at.

"He's proved rather elusive," she said, aware that there was little point in prevaricating with a psychostrategist.

"Obviously." He smiled again, this time deliberately suggesting a little incompetence on her part.

As he'd intended, she was slightly annoyed. "Chance!" she said firmly. "With that ship and...," she hesitated a moment," a few other embellishments..." Again she hesitated. She was not, really, keen to tell him about Orac.

But it was too late now that she'd raised the question in his mind. "What embellishments?" he enquired, and when she did not immediately answer, he said, "I can do nothing for you unless you give me all the facts at your disposal. Perhaps it would be better if you commissioned someone else for this task, Ma'am. I'm exceedingly busy..."

"You are commissioned by me!" she snarled at him furiously.

How easy she is to manipulate, he thought, greatly amused. "So," he said lightly, "what embellishments - if you please?"

"Orac," she replied, accepting the inevitable. "He has a machine called Orac."

"Ensor's machine," he murmured. There was a rumour around the Institute that Servalan had been after Ensor's precious Orac and had failed to get it. So Blake had the machine? That was exceedingly interesting.

"You have heard of Orac?" Servalan asked him, startled.

"Indeed." But he did not elaborate on how he knew.

She decided to leave the matter of how he acquired his information. It was more important that he understood what Orac was. "It's a kind of computer," she said, "but like nothing I've ever encountered before. What do you know of it?"

"Enough to understand that it gives Blake a great advantage over Space Command," he replied. How he would like to work with Orac! But the chance of that was remote. "So you are wanting a strategy to take Blake, is that it?" he asked her, wishing she would get on with the matter. It was not so much impatience - he was a patient man, had to be in his profession - merely a matter of boredom with her hesitations. Carnell did not like to be bored.

"To take him or kill him, either will do. But there's something else as well, Carnell...and this is very confidential. You understand?"

He did, and laughed to himself. So that was it: another of Servalan's little personal ambitions, something not quite legitimate...like her unsuccessful efforts to get Orac. She could not have enjoyed losing the machine and she was out to succeed this time. He wondered what was more important to her: Blake's death or her latest fancy, whatever it was.

"There's a weapon," she said, "and I want it. I want it for my personal use. I want the acquisition kept secret - no-one is to know of it except you and me. This is another commission, Carnell, and I will pay you well for it."

Indeed you should, he thought. Keeping such a secret should cost her...but would she pay? "Do you want two separate strategies?" he asked her.

"Perhaps... I want to mark Blake...and one of his companions...with the weapon."

"To mark him? What does that mean? Ah...of course. Coser's invention."

So he knows about that as well, Servalan thought. Is there anything he does not know? "Coser's invention," she agreed. "I want it, and I want to kill Blake with it."

"And one of his companions," Carnell repeated softly. Which one? Probably the computer expert. He was the kind of man she'd notice. Doubtless Avon had annoyed her in some way. Or perhaps she felt he was too inaccessible to grab for herself. Too inaccessible...or unsuitable as a pet? Easier to kill him if she could not get him? What a vicious woman she was! Exciting though, in her way. It would be very amusing to string her along, flattering her, keeping her interest without inflaming her too much, manipulating her. "A possibility," he said, getting back to her other requirement, "would be to give the impression that Blake has stolen the weapon...and then kill him later."

"He must know he's been marked," she said," and the other one too. I most particularly want them both to know, Carnell, that they are at my mercy." Her eyes glittered with malice. "You'll see to that," she said. It was an order, not a request.

Repellant, aren't you, he thought. But it was a sensual kind of violence. He could imagine what men felt when they were enslaved by her. Was Blake's companion tempted by her? Or even enslaved already. It would be fascinating to find out. "I shall need," he said, "to spend some time questioning your staff...and yourself, Ma'am. Then I must visit the Weapons Research Base and observe Coser. The man's a Beta, I recall."

"Yes," she replied. "An unlikely grade to produce such an imaginative weapon."

"But useful for your purpose: he will be easier to manipulate than an Alpha grade... And finally, I must study the terrorists."

"We have considerable data here."

"No doubt," he said, smiling, "but I prefer my own sources. Very well...how soon do you wish to put the strategy into operation?"

"Immediately?" she suggested, sweetly.

"Wishful thinking," he said. "Ever the human occupation... I'll regard the matter as urgent."

"You can give me an estimate," she responded. "I must have a reasonably accurate idea of when I can expect to have the weapon."

"I must have time to work on Coser: he will be the linchpin of the strategy." Apart from yourself, he thought wryly. "I'll make no guesses now," he told her flatly. "You'll have your estimate - when I am ready."

And with that she had to be content.

What Carnell saw of Servalan's staff over the next few days confirmed the data he'd studied of her earlier, that she was reasonably efficient but not reliable. She expected perfection from her staff, and anyone who failed her was demoted forthwith, but she could not cope with criticism nor see in herself the faults which sometimes led to errors appearing to proceed from others. Well, Carnell thought grimly, life was always a gamble in spite of the best strategies he or anyone else could devise for dealing with it.

She made no particular advances to him and he concluded that she was a little wary of committing herself until she was sure of him. She had not dealt with psychostrategy before and was obviously uneasy at doing so now. He gave her as much outward assurance as he felt was applicable and for the rest he left her wondering.

Then he went on to the Weapons Development Base. Weapons in themselves did not particularly interest Carnell although he naturally had to know a good deal about them; but the people did interest him, especially the Beta technician Coser who had so amazingly come up with a particularly unusual weapon.

The principle was that it contained two parts: a section which looked like a weapon and was used to mark the victim, and a hand-held controller which was small, light, and easy to hide. The weapon had to mark from a close range but the handheld controller which effected the final slaughter could be operated later from up to a million miles away. How useful this could be to Servalan Carnell had quickly realised. He was not at all sure he liked the idea of her possessing it: she was likely to use it secretly on anyone she took a dislike to and even on those she did not dislike...such as himself, for example. Yes, he was committed, unfortunately, to getting it for her, but he would also ensure that she did not keep it. There was no point in taking foolish risks, especially any risk which could involve Servalan blackmailing him into her permanent service. He could well imagine how Gort too would feel about the weapon - he sent his Director a message and received a reply expressing exactly the horror he had expected. "Get rid of it," Gort ordered him. "Servalan is the very last person who should be allowed to use such an artefact." How Carnell agreed with that!

At least dealing with Coser would be simple enough. The man had a massive complex relating to his Beta grading. He was delighted to have proved it wrong - as he saw it - with his clever invention, yet suspicious of any sign of congratulation from his Alpha overlords. He was a gift to any psychostrategist. Carnell would have no difficulty in playing on his paranoia and, ultimately, instilling in him a conviction that his weapon was too marvellous for the offensive, haughty, selfish Alphas he served. First there would be a few staff changes, the introduction of particularly trying individuals who would soon put his back up, then an intensive programme of subtle victimisation. Eventually, Coser would leave and take the weapon with him.

Next, they must introduce Blake to the weapon - which would involve using Orac. Servalan now suspected that Orac could - somehow - read classified Federation data. And, of course, the Weapons Development Base would be bound to interest Blake. It was reasonable to suppose Blake might already have his eye on the base, and if he did not, he must be induced to do so soon.


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