Pattern of Infinity - Part I - A Very Ordinary NeedBy J. Kel
Page 2 of 5
The Ruler of the Last Days
In the center of a large circular room deep beneath the city (Avon was one of the few who knew exactly where) was a white marble desk shaped like a falcated moon. Nearby on a black pedestal rested a rectangular plastic box filled with amber glowing lights. Angled to one side were a bank of screens; to the other a row of communication panels. And to the back a huge display of the human universe: the Federation.
Filling half the room, the deep sea blue display, a three-dimensional matrix crossed with colored lines and dotted with blinkers and symbols, was the font of Federation power. Every star, planet, asteroid, station, and ship was represented. With slight movements of a hand, the controller could track any individual known to the Federation, examine the continually updated data on same, trace that individual back as far as records would permit, and extrapolate courses of action. Under the control of ORAC, it was possibly the most complete, accurate, and perfect database and communications network ever built -- at least known to have been built.
(Behind the marble desk was a woman dressed in white. A woman who, like the display, possessed a beauty cold and austere, sublimely pure, without appeal to weakness, and capable of the sternest perfection.)
For three years Servalan and her technicians had labored on the network. And now ORAC, more or less grudgingly, was in service to the Federation (more precisely, its most well-known representative), just as it had once, more or less grudgingly, assisted Blake. She spared no effort and certainly no expense in completing the network. Another individual who had also, more or less grudgingly, assisted Blake, once joked to her about the enormous cost of the database. If she ever left Servalan City, he told her, she would not be invited back. But she did not laugh.
There was reason for her lack of humor on this subject. This is Servalan at maximum power, true. A "mathematician of the soul" (she liked the phrase), she could wipe out a planet on the basis of a calculation, true. (Though had not done so since Auron.) Yet this was the room she seldom left. As the source of power, it was as much psychological as real. Here she could keep the demons of the time distant. Here the cool face and the black hair were safe.
Partly because of lessons learned about leaving positions of power physically vacated. Partly because of a waning desire to yield to the public responsibilities of her position. Partly because the business of power was never finished, she remained here. Except for sleep, she seldom ventured outside the room of central control. For someone who knew power as both abstraction and ultimate physical reality, there was no need to go anywhere else. And more to the point, there was nowhere else to go.
Though the tension never ceased between them, she remained convinced that her choice of "number two man" of the State had been one of her finest decisions. And the man standing before her, the man who had once been an enemy second only to Blake, in turn had accepted her triumph. He would survive -- that was always his first consideration. The days of rebellion were over.
The people were exhausted; their greatest need was for peace. With the most notorious symbol of resistance verifiably dead, their broken morale had given her at last the freedom and total power to act. Luck and fate, good and bad, and not a little guile had brought this oddest of couples together. It was up to him to make the best of it.
As counselor, Avon guided her in expunging the most odious aspects of Federation rule and she was receptive to his advice. She consulted him regularly and seemed to trust his judgment on many subjects. She was not in the least concerned about the unhappiness of some regarding him and felt no embarrassment in having him by her side. It was almost as if she were flaunting him. She spoke of fate and destiny and love, always love. She said it was good to work with a man skilled at hastening the natural course of events.
She reformed the system of prison planets by essentially abandoning them -- henceforth, prisoners were now to be kept on Earth in model camps (for "humanitarian" reasons, she said. He knew the word to her meant only increased control).
She dismantled the most onerous aspects of the Federation's command economy. The results were as good as she could have hoped: tax revenues increasing, the fleets rebuilding (now nearing full strength once more), and a populace willing to give her time.
The Troubles were over. There would be no reoccurrence. Resistance had been reduced to negligible levels. Remaining opposition would be corrected where possible, crushed where necessary. So it was decreed. Together.
So it was for those years that Avon's will and hers -- (always hers) prevailed. Together.
(When they touched, stars fell . . .)
They would reminisce, if that is the proper word, about "before". Not that they were comfortable now with the past, far from it, but it seemed the sort of thing that one should do now that the new order was established and accepted. She would talk at length (in the early morning she could go on for hours): sometimes remembering the terror of the Galactic War, but usually it would be about the "necessity" of Auron's destruction (he would listen, saying very little) and the final chaotic months before Gauda Prime. But she was reluctant to say anything about the gap between those two events. Once she told him that in every victory there is a defeat but would not elaborate.
The past was to be wiped clean to admit her glorious future -- on that she was emphatic. If anything was to be retained, it was only the "gift", the captured letter she gave him. But the rest (especially Blake) was to be forgotten.
In fairness to her, there was much he too wished to forget.
Only Auron remained to separate them. He did not understand her obsession with the Auronar, the dread and fear that was always with her. It seemed that the annihilation of Auron had been as much a psychological turning point as her triumph at Gauda Prime. She viewed that "alien" race as unfinished business. She loathed their culture and science with a passion that defied all reason. She even blamed Auron biotechnology for bringing back "Blake". Nonsense on the face of it (she herself knew that Blake had never been within 10 lightyears of the planet), yet she seemed to truly believe it.
Her first decision after regaining the Presidency had been to order Auron burned from space -- it had been under permanent quarantine, but that was deemed insufficient.
Her feelings about Aurons were forbidden territory, never to be entered. He obeyed the prohibition. He never raised the subject; never objected to her ravings on the matter. Yet she seemed to know when it was on his mind. In the middle of a completely unrelated subject, she would suddenly speak of making that lava-coated cinder planet a "monument". Or she might launch into a tirade about the Auronar being a race that should be "extinct". She spoke of isolating them further (their so-called Community in Exile was already restricted and confirmed on all Federation worlds) so that revenge would be impossible.
There would be further measures, but what she would not say. It was odd her preoccupation with Aurons when the Empire of the Black Shield was an infinitely greater danger.
The Black Shield was an immense object -- there seemed no other way to put it -- a sphere of diamond foam, ten light-years in diameter, having the mass of over a hundred galaxies. For a billion years it had drifted through galactic space, its inhabitants unknown, watching, and waiting to strike -- or at least so the Aurons said.
Yet she was indebted to the Black Shield. She had obliterated Auron thanks to a modified version of their "space plague" that Blake had saved her from. But from what little was known of the dwellers of the Black Shield, the debt would be called in. In response, for while she trusted Aurons on nothing else, she did give their warnings credence, she had ordered the Black Shield to be surrounded by orbiting anti-matter mines.
As a life, perhaps it was not so bad. She used him; he accepted it. She would never risk losing him, of that he was certain. He was her most visible symbol of triumph. He was the human face of her power. He was the hope of the Federation. And when he was among the people, as he was increasingly these last few years, he was the warning of a time that few dared think about.
Poor Avon! How he dreaded the visits among them. The price one must pay for even the illusion of power. But she insisted to her advisors (and to him) that it was good the people favored their new "leader" and while she did not understand (neither did he) why they viewed the man with the black and silver cape as one of their own, it hardly mattered. As long as it did not get out of hand.
He waited. She ignored him. The usual.
"You did well," she said finally, looking up. "What do you think of our visitor?"
What is being hid this time?
He answered cautiously. "A competent scientist. It's difficult to gauge the value of his speculative writings, but his accomplishments are real enough. A strange one though. Why the interest in him?"
She smiled as if nothing could be more natural and obvious. "Why shouldn't I be interested? ORAC tells me that he is brilliant. A rare compliment from our mutual friend."
"ORAC has been wrong before."
She rose from her desk. "That was harsh, Avon. ORAC does quite well when it has all the information." She paused. "Well, almost always. Seeing as I never expected omniscience from it, it remains an extremely useful research tool. Most of the time, I am inclined to give it the benefit of the doubt. And ORAC informs me that Geir's work should be looked into."
She continued, moving gracefully towards the computer. "Do you disagree?"
No. "Frankly, much of what Geir says isn't resplendent in clarity, so forgive me for failing to give an enthusiastic endorsement. This business about a 'morphogenetic field' and his obsession with Terminal is . . ."
"I do forgive you. And I agree that the whole business is bothersome, along with his dreary world and questionable friends."
It does make sense to you. That much is clear.
Standing beside ORAC, she stroked her fingers along the plastic case. "I have studied him since I was contacted by their embassy. Some of his associates worry me. One is an Auron, but Geir may be unaware of the danger. He is rather naive, isn't he? So many scientists are. Anyway, I want you to meet with his people and let me know what you think, nothing more. Perhaps bring me a 'gift' for observation. You be the judge. Then I'll decide what to do."
She came over to the silent Avon. "You are forgiving as well. I like that in a man," but her face had lost its softness. "Actually, I was rather hoping you would tell me he was a fool. I have had the network track every lead on him, yet I find nothing of substance. He is clean, apparently, though not clean enough. There are rumors of 'disharmony' on his world, would-be terrorist groups, that sort of thing," her face became gentle again. "Maybe your presence will change their attitude."
I have that affect at times. "Are you worried you might be getting more than bargained for?"
She put her arms on his shoulders. "I rather hope we do. I believe you miss my intent, dearest. It is not enough to stop a threat. One must also know what is feeding it. And I don't know nearly enough about this one. Sometimes I think that's the difference between us. My vision is focused on the future; yours on the past."
He looked down at her. "There is much that is intriguing in the past. As our visitor indicates," he paused. "What is the threat?"
Her arms slid off his shoulders. She put her head on his chest and gently embraced him. You never were good at taking hints. "Dear Avon, so cold. I will tell you later." She pulled his hands around her. "Kiss me."
He did, but her face showed disappointment. She sighed. "So much goes in," she said, touching his lips. "So little comes out. I worry about your love at times," breaking the embrace. "Are the years dimming your need for me? Or is something other than the physical troubling my Lord Protector?"
He studied her. Warning shots fire in the distance. You know what's bothering me. "I would like to know more. I am not indifferent to whatever danger Geir may represent. But I am curious about your new found interest in science."
She looked up again at the monitor. She shrugged and spoke as if giving a lecture to a dull student. "It's a matter of Federation, therefore it interests me. Shall I pull rank on you? I hate to do that, but I will. Really, Avon, what else is there to say?
"Do you know Geir was quite thrilled about the chance of meeting you?" she went on. "Says his real interest is locating Terminal, but I doubt that is the whole of it. You remain a romantic figure, even to a scientist. I think there is a little of the hero worship I find so touching. "
This is bad.
"And my hero as well. The Federation is more secure than it has ever been. How long since Gauda Prime? Seven years? Time flies, doesn't it? Think of what I have accomplished with you by my side. My internal enemies are liquidated, my rule is unchallenged, the last serious incident occurred years ago. And he is but a memory, if a bad one. My companion," she stroked ORAC again, "informs me of so much of interest -- if not everything I want. And I have you. But I am not happy."
She made a sweeping gesture to the display. Then she angrily faced him. "I'm worry about you. I need you, Avon. I need your insight and your energy as much as your loyalty. And lately I have begun to suspect I am not getting them in the quantities necessary for our mutual survival. There are fears, expressed by some, not me, that you might . . . revert." She hesitated, not quite seeming to have the right words. "That should concern you."
"It does, though maybe not for the same reasons."
"And what are those reasons? You should trust me more." She was exasperated.
"I recall you once told me trust is good, but control is better."
"I am glad you remember that. I worry about your memory as well. Sometimes it is too good. But control is not always possible to the extent I would prefer and this appears to be one of those instances. I have this feeling that something is missing, that something is very wrong. If true, and I trust my feelings, it could be bad for us."
"I will do what you will," he said, sounding more resigned than intended.
"Then we will discuss this no further. Wait, there is one more thing. I know you don't like doing this, but I must insist. It is an order. You will go armed."
"Why? I will have guards . . ."
"Yes. Of course." She was getting quite irritated. "There will be guards. Do you have objections to one more defense? Avon, I insist. It is an order. Despite your reputation as a quick learner, sometimes it seems to me you have trouble catching on to the obvious."
Maybe I do not want to understand.
"I am unsure I can kill in anger."
"Then kill in the state of mercy." She paused and drew in a breath, "I spared your life, Avon. Several times. I have never regretted it. I feel deeply for you. You may doubt that at times, but I assure you I never lie."
It is not my problem if some occasionally misunderstand my meaning, she thought.
"For now, you are needed elsewhere. I'll miss you, as always, but this is more important than your usual duties. All I ask is that you be alert; look both ways before crossing the street, all the things a diplomat is paid to do."
"I will," he replied. "I appreciate the assurance that you never lie. I never lie either."
It is not my problem if some occasionally misunderstand my meaning.
"I am aware of that. You will be fine."
One last try. "Did you also know that Geir was going to ask about Blake?"
"Oh. Him." she laughed relieved. "Of course I knew. It wasn't amusing to me, but I thought it might amuse you. You aren't angry at me, are you, for my little surprise?"
"It was the last thing I expected to be asked."
Looking every bit the ultra-efficient executive she was, she said: "That's the nature of surprises, dearest. Someone in your position must be ready for them, whatever they may be."
She returned to her desk. "Anyway, good luck on your trip," she said serenely. "I'm sure you will find it interesting."
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