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The Measure of Affection

By Ros Williams
Page 1 of 62

We should measure affection, not like youngsters by the ardour of its passion, but by its strength and constancy.

Cicero

AUTHOR'S NOTE

I've always said this could never happen to Avon and it wasn't at all what I intended when I started out on this tale, but the plot crept up on me and then refused to go away. So don't take too seriously my liberties with the personalities of Avon, Blake, Carnell and others.

This story is dedicated to Chris Boucher and Scott Fredericks, without whose original inspirations it could never have been written. Apologies are due to Chris for my various quotations in Part I from the episode Weapon.

PART I - OFT ARE STRATAGEMS

Those oft are stratagems which errors seem

Alexander Pope

CHAPTER ONE

"Now that," said Servalan, Supreme Commander of the Terran Federation's Fleet, to Space Commander Travis, "was not amusing...not amusing at all." She frowned angrily as she paced along the sandy beach with Travis trailing rather disconsolately behind her. "You're in trouble - you know that, don't you? You seem to be making a habit of failing, Travis."

Travis shrugged. There was little point in arguing with the Supreme Commander at the best of times and he had no doubt that if he so much as muttered a word of protest now she'd rake him with insults. He was used to it, used to her habit of avoiding responsibility for any disaster, no matter how small.

The most galling thing was losing Blake again. Travis didn't care too much about Orac - it was Servalan who'd wanted Orac and Travis would never have been allowed to use it even if, with it, he could have seized Blake once and for all.

Servalan suddenly stopped walking and turned on him. "I've had enough of leaving you to your own devices," she snarled. "I'm organising the next trap - the last trap, you may be sure - and you'll obey orders to the letter."

I always do, he thought bitterly. But there, you couldn't expect Servalan to be consistent - or honest. And this last 'trap' hadn't been his idea either. Servalan had masterminded the whole thing, and had failed. Perhaps she'd just been too greedy?

"We're going to kill Blake once and for all," Servalan said viciously. Glaring at Travis's impassive face, she was tempted to hit him: all it needed was one careless word from him. But the word did not come and after a moment she walked on. "Call the ship and tell them to send a transporter," she snapped over her shoulder to Travis. "I've had enough of walking on this God-forsaken seashore."

Travis forbore, wisely, to mention that God no longer existed.

Back at Space Command, Servalan went through the reports and correspondence awaiting her and was pleased to see that all had been running smoothly. Most of the paperwork was vaguely interesting but not important, except for one item from the Weapons Research Base. A new weapon was always an event to savour, for Servalan had a definite weakness for discovering new forms of attack against her enemies and the Base's latest weapon was definitely original. Her eyes narrowed as she read the report. A gem of an idea was creeping through her mind... Was it possible, that was the vital question.

The weapon had a unique feature: when it was fired, it did not kill. Instead, it marked the victim, delivering a lethal potential to the molecular structure of the part it hit, so that when the actual trigger was activated...at any time the aggressor so chose, so long as the victim was in range...the victim would die. And the really delightful thing about it all was that the victim could be blackmailed, kept in fear of his life, for as long as the weapon's owner chose. Oh yes, Servalan thought, it was a fitting weapon for any leader.

Or...not any leader. Preferably one leader. Preferably for Supreme Commander Servalan. And preferably with no-one else knowing she'd got it.

She could use it on anyone she chose, hold them to ransom... The more she thought about it, the more enticing it seemed. Yes, Servalan thought, this was something she just had to have, and when Servalan really wanted something, she'd move all the stars in the Universe, as the saying went, to get it.

Then there was the matter of Blake, and Travis's failures. Something would have to be done about Blake for High Council were getting restive. They knew nothing about the Orac business, of course...and there was another thing she'd dearly wanted, and lost. Blake would pay for that with his life, and that friend of his...Avon...would pay too.

He was a handsome man, Kerr Avon; ruthless - she suspected - and ruthless men appealed to Servalan so long as they were on her side. The problem was that this man was not on her side. If she could have got at him for long enough, she could have held him, she had no doubt of that, but the chance of getting at him was remote unless she could capture him. The thought of holding him helpless intrigued her, and the thought of lying with him was a delightful fantasy - but one must be practical. The man was an enemy, too well known to High Council. Lust was all very well, but High Council wanted him eliminated and Servalan was not sufficiently powerful - yet - to defy High Council, so she must regretfully put aside any fancies for Kerr Avon. There were many other handsome men in the galaxy, many who'd fall at her feet without hesitation. She had no need to expend any of her time on one who was not available. Blake was more important than Avon.

One idea inevitably led to another. Would it be possible to seize the weapon and use it on Blake? How amusing it would be if Blake were to realise he was at her mercy. How amusing to be able to kill him whenever she chose...and how incredibly amusing to wield that same power over Kerr Avon. How would Avon look at her when he knew that his days were numbered, inevitably and irrevocably, according to her whim? Ah - that would be the best moment of all.

To accomplish all this, the trap was going to have to be exceptional. Even Servalan herself could not see how to do it. There was only one recourse now, one that she'd feared to use in the past for the risks were great and the strategist she'd use would be independent of Space Command, a law unto himself; answerably only, and then loosely, to his own mysterious, secretive organisation which infiltrated the Federation yet was never under its control. It was no threat to the Federation. On the contrary, it was usually a benefit; but its methods were based on an inexact science and it chose its clients most carefully.

But would the organisation dare to refuse Supreme Commander Servalan? Servalan doubted it, for she was surely powerful enough to defy it - destroy it - if she so chose. Servalan would seize the organisation in her vice-like grip and insist on having its best strategist assigned to her...come what may.

She reached for her console communicator. "Get me High Councillor Gort," she said.

As Director of the Institute for Psychostrategic Studies, Gort was a powerful man, and that influence had led him to High Councillorship. He was also a friend...to a degree...of Supreme Commander Servalan and happy to talk to her on general matters. When it came to his Institute, he was a little less forthcoming, as Servalan soon discovered.

"Ma'am," he said, "we are not a political organisation."

"Aren't you? You are a politician, Gort."

"My hobby, Ma'am, no more; a pastime that's good for my psyche, a relaxation from my profession..."

Servalan raised her eyebrows. "A stressful relaxation, surely?"

"That's a contradiction in terms, Ma'am. Still, you aren't interested in my amusements, are you?"

"Not in the least," Servalan replied disarmingly. "I'm interested in your Institute, as I told you; and specifically in commissioning from you a strategy...to catch Blake."

"Ah...now that might be interesting." Gort smiled, but warily.

"So...?" Servalan frowned. Why was the man hesitating?

"What do you want me to say, Ma'am?" he asked her, disguising his unease. It was one thing to admire Servalan, but quite another to work with her. He knew only too well her inclination to blame others for her faults. One error on her part in some plan his Institute put forward and the whole Institute would be discredited. He had no desire whatsoever to co-operate with her.

"Let's stop beating about the bush, Gort," she said sharply, losing patience with his prevarications. "I want your best strategist, I want him now, I want him entirely at my disposal until Blake is taken...and I want the utmost discretion. No-one...no-one, Gort...is to know that I am employing you, let alone why. Is that clearly understood?"

"It is understood, Ma'am," Gort said, rather coldly. He did not take kindly to threats. No doubt he'd be hard put to get out of this dilemma. There were times when strategy might just dictate a graceful acceptance of a trying situation. "I will make the necessary arrangements..."

"One thing more," she said. "You'll not pick and choose. There's a man I want."

"Ah?" He might have known it. She'd so often, Servalan would, allow herself to be influenced by some sensual fancy: it was one of her prime failings. She did not go in for love. Servalan was one of the hardest women he'd ever encountered; but there was cold of the heart (to put it fancifully) and cold of the body (to put it crudely), and in the latter Servalan was as hot as they came. She'd get the strategist she wanted...it was not politic to refuse her...and have her fun as well if she could.

Of course, there was one thing she would not have bargained for since she was not, herself, trained in psychostrategy. Any stragetist good enough to attract Servalan's interest would have no difficulty in handling her. "Will you tell me his name?" he asked her.

"Certainly." Servalan smiled at him, sleek and bright now that she saw he would not argue further. "His name is Carnell."

Gort managed, somehow, not to laugh out loud. "Of course," he said, "the obvious man. One of my best, as you doubtless know. A genius, a true genius: so accomplished...so successful. A credit to our organisation. I'm sure I can persuade him to work with you."

"'Persuading' does not come into it, Gort!" she snapped. "You'll tell him - now. I want him, and I want him here - immediately. Is that clearly understood?"

"Indubitably," he replied politely. "He'll be on his way - immediately - Ma'am."

When her face had disappeared from his console screen, Gort started to laugh in earnest. When he'd recovered a little, he thought, On his way, certainly, my dear Supreme Commander, but not necessarily in your bed. Carnell's too clever for you, Servalan. Even if he desires you, he'll have you running rings around him while he sleeps with all the other women on Supreme Command. Oh yes, an excellent choice... The only thing is whether he can force you to carry out his strategy effectively.

And that, unfortunately, was the problem, and could be the disaster. Servalan was too individualistic, too conceited, to accept the orders of another. If it suited her, she might alter Carnell's strategy, or ignore his warnings. She was a highly unsuitable client...the very worst, and Gort's people were under strict orders never to deal with her except with his express agreement. This assignment could make or break Carnell...and if it broke him through Servalan's careless irresponsibility, Gort would find some way to get back at her if it took him the rest of his life to do it. For Gort saw Carnell, golden-haired, handsome, clever Carnell, as his successor in due course and he did not want to lose him, not at all.

Where was Carnell now? Ah yes, somewhere outside the Federation altogether, working with that hostile group after annexing a farflung Federation sector. Of course one did not tell one's High Council colleagues about this kind of work...it was none of their business; and business was business, after all. The Institute was a business organisation, not a military establishment run by Federation power. Gort's people worked for money - a lot of money. And that was another problem. Servalan was notoriously difficult when it came to settling accounts...always out to get something for nothing. Useful for her, no doubt, but a damned nuisance for anyone to whom she owed money. She was not, definitely not, popular except with her own troops.

He had to admit she had charisma, and a way with her when it came to command. Her people gave her absolute loyalty, even when she cheated them as she sometimes did. She was a clever woman in her way... Well, it was up to Carnell now to keep her on the straight and narrow. Sighing, Gort sent a message to her chosen strategist.


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