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Conscience of the Queen

By Marian Mendez
Page 1 of 8

Zen was dying.

He fought it, but nothing in his programming could halt the decay. His `body' was already lost to him, and his thinking processes were reduced to little more than a human's. For the first time in his existence, he was frightened. Zen discovered he had learned something from the humans who had lived within him. He wasn't going to give up.

In desperation, he looked back into his failing memory. Something teased at him--there had been a creature who had fought against death--and for a while, had won. If Avon had not seized the source of the alien's power and destroyed it by casting it into one of Zen's consoles . . . Wait! Zen struggled to recall the data. At the moment of its destruction the `ring' had been within Zen's ambiance. Automatically, he had saved the information, as he saved all information.

He did not have time to create a solid form as the alien had done, but it should be possible to save his core personality by duplicating himself- in a human host. He would not be in control, as the alien had been, but he had never desired control. As long as his host lived, he would exist. He reached out with his fading senses to locate a human in the teleport chamber. He replicated the `ring' on the human's finger and triggered it, then he activated the teleport, with the last of his strength sending his host to safety.

* * * * * * *

Servalan woke to learn she'd been unconscious for several weeks. She had lost the Liberator beyond any hope of recovery and her empire had been stolen in her absence. A small voice inside her said, you are fortunate to have survived, but she ignored it. What good was mere survival? She needed power as others needed air. The only cheering note came in remembering the traps she'd laid for Avon and his crew. By now, they should all be dead. Only she didn't feel as pleased about that as she'd expected. It was almost as if some part of her mourned their passing. Which was utter nonsense.

Her only immediately accessible assets were the ornaments she'd been wearing when the Liberator teleported her to this lonely neutral outpost, and one exceedingly ugly ring which must have belonged to another patient in the small medical unit . No doubt it was included in her belongings by mistake. It was the first piece she sold to finance her climb back to power. Bribery, seduction, threat, blackmail, assassination . . . she'd done it all before. Now she knew the most efficient means of achieving domination over others. Her fall from grace was a temporary set-back, nothing more.

Her close brush with death seemed to have had psychological repercussions. Frequently she sensed a ghostly voice arguing against her more ruthless maneuvers. It was irksome, but nothing she couldn't live with. She would have to, as she certainly couldn't expose her secrets to any doctor.

* * * * * * *

Under her new identity as Commissioner Sleer, Servalan had been given authority to pacify the outer planets by any means she deemed suitable. She was at present in her office, studying the feasibility of a campaign using Solium bombs and other planet-wreckers--quick, horrifying examples to other rebellious worlds.

It is excessive to destroy an entire planet for the acts of a minority of its people. There is a more efficient way to control behavior. Sleer was surprised at her thought. Military intervention was the usual procedure against rebelling outer worlds. But there are other ways. Remember the unexpected effect an overdose of that muscle relaxant had on test animals? Sleer sat up. She had forgotten. It was only a footnote in a report from one of the scientists under her command. It should be possible to persuade him to refine the drug further-- what was it called now? Ah, yes, Pylene--Pylene in fifty times the standard dosage. If it worked, Pylene Fifty could be the backbone of her Pacification Programme. It should please the Council if rebellious planets could be made docile and productive, instead of converted into bare, blasted rock. She called her aide and began making plans.

* * * * * * *

Sleer was getting rather tired of hunting down all the people who had known her as Servalan. Fortunately, her `still, small, voice' never objected when she killed a fellow Federation officer. Not that its objections would stop her, but she liked to think she was more practical than that. A great many of her people had died fighting for her which simplified matters, but there were a few that had been overlooked in the general slaughter--such as the newly-elected Governor of Helotrix. He had been quite enamored of her, and was now in a position of sufficient authority to be inconvenient. She had come to take care of him and that rather flattering portrait he had made of her. Shame to destroy it, but one mustn't be untidy. Attention to detail is one mark of a successful personality.

She remained after tidying up in order to check on Forbus, the creator of Pylene 50, and her agent, Leitz. Both were rapidly becoming troublesome. Having taken care of them, she decided to see for herself how well Pylene 50 worked in a real-life situation. It had been some time since she had personally taken to the field in a military action. She was quite looking forward to it. Only she hadn't expected to see Dayna and Tarrant, alive and very well. She fled, furious at the failure of her trap on Terminal. Her ship was nearby, fortunately.

Once she reached the safety of the ship, she vented her anger by shouting at her mutoid pilot, then threw herself into her command chair, still fuming. If Dayna and Tarrant survived, so might the others. More enemies. Just what she needed. But they were exciting enemies, were they not? Unlike the dull-witted ones who serve you now. Sleer considered the thought for a moment, then smiled. If Avon was alive . . . he had aroused her . . . interest, in the past. And what threat can they be--without Liberator? "Mutoid, prepare for departure." They can not expose Servalan without exposing themselves. There is no need to make them a priority.

* * * * * * *

Sleer worked patiently, displaying her talents as the Commissioner in charge of the Pacification Programme while keeping her eyes open for any opportunities that might come her way. One never knew which of the avenues to power was most direct. Frequently, Avon's crew competed with her for the prize--too often to be coincidence, in her opinion. Whether it was animals that could withstand radiation, power crystals, gold, preservative sand, or Tachyon Funnels; again and again, Avon and company interfered with her plans.

Yet, somehow, whenever she had them in her sights, she hesitated. Was she growing weak? The closest she'd come to killing any of them had been indirectly, using Cancer and then that horrid slug, Egrorian. Even on those occasions, she'd insisted on Cancer delaying Avon's execution while she talked with him and had actually felt ill at the thought of Avon and Vila dying in the shuttle crash. You are only human. You have feelings--desires. You enjoyed Tarrant on Virn, and you have often thought you would enjoy Avon. If they die, you will regret it.

That blasted conscience of hers was always nagging her about that ragged group of rebels. She really ought to do something about them once and for all. If they die, you will regret it for the rest of your life. Maybe. And maybe not. But she must end their interference. No matter how satisfying Tarrant had been, or how intriguing Avon might be.

They wouldn't be a problem much longer. Avon had been forced from his hiding place by Zukan's treachery and must be highly vulnerable. She was as sure of that as if she'd been there to see them evacuate. It was possible that Zukan had succeeded in destroying the Scorpio crew, but she doubted it. Avon was a survivor, and every bit as paranoid in his self-protection as she was. She rather admired him for that--among other qualities. Why must you be enemies? The thought was not a new one, but no matter how often it occurred to her, she quashed it firmly. They would be useful, even invaluable. Really, it was nonsense. They were dangerous and would simply have to be eliminated. That would be a waste. You have no capable lieutenants . Think what you could accomplish with Avon and Tarrant at your side. Not to mention an accomplished thief, a weapons designer and a bodyguard no one would suspect. She toyed with the idea. No, practical considerations aside, there were too many personal reasons for their animosity.

At the moment, she simply hadn't the time to devote to them. She was coming close to true power once more. The Zerok gold had been very helpful. She finally could afford to place spies with all her rivals. It was delicious, revealing their petty schemes to the council with a pious tale of protecting the Federation from corrupt officials. The council wasn't entirely composed of fools--but she made certain that the ones who realized what she was doing profited by her actions. Soon, soon, she would be back where she belonged.

She sighed. First, though, she had to wade through her spies' reports. Her desk was piled with computer cubes containing information from across the Federated Worlds. Space Command had many ambitious commanders. She smiled. She was once one of them, which is why she knew where the true threat lay. At random, she pulled another cube from the pile and activated it without bothering to read the identifying label.

It was from an Arlen--hmm. Oh, yes, that rodent-like woman she'd sent to some frontier world to keep an eye on the base commander, a Space Commander Fernal. He had heard rumors about Blake. Who hadn't heard rumors about Blake? If she didn't know better, she'd swear the clone masters had run off a few hundred curly-haired rebels and turned them loose on an unsuspecting universe. She didn't much care about Blake. If he'd been doing any rabble-rousing since the debacle at Star One, she hadn't heard. Most likely he was dead, and the rebels simply invented a new Blake whenever they had a recruit who resembled him; she mused idly, while faces of suspected rebels passed. Not a very inspiring bunch. They looked like farmers and . . . .

Wait. That face. Sleer obeyed her inner voice, stopping the data. This image was blurred, apparently taken at night, at a distance, then computer enhanced. It wasn't a very clear image but--it could just be. Blake. Blake lives. Servalan exulted for a moment, then frowned. It wouldn't be her capture--she'd get no credit for it. Arlen reported that the rebels' base was compromised. She read further. Apparently Blake was playing some idiotic game as a `bounty hunter' turning over to the Federation only those criminals who were no use to him. And he thought none of them would recognize him, or talk in hopes of reducing their punishment? The blind arrogance of the man was amazing.

But he knew her. She could not afford to let him be captured by anyone else. Come to that, why hadn't he been taken already? She scanned further. Blake is waiting for Avon and his crew. They will all be taken at once. Sleer stood up. "No! I will not have it!" She activated her communications console, sending a coded message to Arlen. Her spy had better be able to delay matters until Sleer could arrive. She swept all the computer cubes into a carrying pouch. She'd simply have to take her work with her on the voyage.

* * * * * * *

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