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The Travis Affair

By Vanessa Mullen
Page 1 of 4

Avon stood over Servalan as she lay sprawled on Hal Mellanby's floor.

      "Imagination my only limit? I'd be dead in a week."

      "But you have to admit, it would be a fascinating week."

      He allowed himself to laugh, the smile spreading over his face. Servalan had style, you had to grant her that. She held out a hand, graciously permitting him to assist her from the floor. The seduction wasn't over yet: the opening negotiations had been concluded, their basic bargaining positions established; now the game began in earnest. Avon took the proffered hand, with the slightest mocking hint of a courtly bow. They had plenty of time until the Mellanbys returned from their foray against the Sarrans. Perhaps she would convince him to abandon Blake, perhaps she wouldn't, but the game, with its multiple overtones of power and sex, was worth playing for its own sake.

      "All you want is another Travis, just someone to follow your orders."

      "Not true." Her voice was low and throaty as she caressed his cheek with a long slender finger. "I need a man with a mind of his own, someone whose skills complement my own. Someone-" her eyes traversed his figure up and down, and then gazed directly into his own, "- someone I find attractive."

      Avon tilted Servalan's chin up and kissed her ruthlessly. "Was that why you had him changed?" he inquired.

      "Changed? I can't imagine what you're talking about."

      He slid an arm around her waist and pulled her tight against him. "Can't you?"

      Warm and firm, her body conveyed a message that had nothing to do with the spoken conversation. "The records of Travis' trial are conclusive. No one challenged his identity - the judicial computer confirmed both fingerprint and retina scan." Servalan's hands moulded themselves against his ass, cupping the cheeks and pressing the heat of his erection against her. "Don't you think we should continue this conversation elsewhere?"

      But Avon's curiosity had been piqued. "So, you had the records altered."

      "On the contrary," her smile was pure innocence, "the records were not only genuine, even men from his own unit identified him when they were called upon to give evidence."

      "You're telling me that the original Travis was the fake?"

      "Correct."

      "Then why..." His words petered out. "Ah!"

      "I knew you'd see it." Her hands worked on his black, silk shirt, opening it and caressing the warm skin inside. "That's why I need you. Working with slow minds is so tiresome." Fingers tugged lightly at individual hairs on his chest, teased lightly on the nipples and slid down to his side where he was always sensitive. It was tempting, so very tempting, to forget the subject in hand, force Servalan to the floor and take her there. But that was part of the game too: who gave way first.

      "You needed to get rid of the original Travis; he knew too much about your fiasco with Orac. But you didn't actually have the original Travis, only a man who thought he was Travis. To put him on public trial - it would have been too suspicious had he died suddenly - you needed the real thing. A clone then."

      "Exactly. The real Travis died in a space accident three days before he was due to take charge of the hunt for Blake. I needed him. His hatred and obsession for Blake gave him that extra edge. So, I made a new Travis."

      Which answered everything. The Federation were experts at memory manipulation. No doubt they'd taken what they could get from the dying man's mind and then topped it up with every detail possible from Travis' service record. Who their victim had been before the transformation didn't really matter. Avon found himself unable to care greatly about the man, although Blake would probably have found countless ironies in the situation. Blake, who had seen only the eyepatch that distinguished Travis so strongly, and never wondered about the man behind it.

      And what would Blake think now, if he could see Avon caressing Servalan? The thought was perversely delightful; thumbing his nose at Blake gave Avon a great sense of freedom. Travis' fate could wait for another day. Bending down, he scooped Servalan into his arms, and carried her into the bedroom.

      

      

Explosions blossomed across the sky, strange exotic flowers that could never have grown on the surface of this world. Fen stood amongst the low clipped hedges of the formal garden and watched with the patience of the very old. Why the invaders had come to this galaxy she did not know, but the ancient compact that the clonemasters had relied on for five centuries was over - each falling shard arcing bright against the sky was another step closer to death. The Andromedans had no need of those whose skill lay in cloning human tissue. When one side could use a weapon and the other could not, the balance to be gained by protecting it was gone.

      They were old. They were all old. Perhaps it was right that their time should come. Another deadly flower exploded, sending crimson showers flaring bright against the stars. It might have been possible to seek shelter against the radiation, but she chose not to go; her world was passing and she would pass with it. The human race in all its genetic diversity would continue. Life would continue, and that was all that mattered. People who demanded her services never realised that cloning was ultimately a form of stagnation. It was not for man or woman to determine the ultimate form of humanity; such hubris sowed the seeds of its own downfall. The clonemasters had realised that long ago. Manipulate men solely to gain strength and you lost versatility. Breed for one feature and there was always a cost elsewhere. The Rule of Life said 'copy, but do not create' and there was wisdom in that rule. Natural selection was slow, but it was certain. She wondered idly, how many people realised that the ultimate purpose of the clonemasters had been to prevent cloning? Promise to clone soldiers for one side if the other developed cloning techniques, and you had the key to stagnation in the art. A fine balance, one dependent on politics as much as threat. Fen had been a master in the art of diplomacy. She knew that, and had no qualms regarding pride. Making the occasional clone had always been necessary for political reasons, both to bribe leaders and to remind others of her power.

      Somewhere out there were men that she had created. Somewhere, buried in the soil of the garden, beneath the carefully trained roses, there lay the bodies of men whom she had allowed to be destroyed. She felt a mild regret for the death of the first Blake clone, but he had been newly formed with no memories of his own. Had Travis ever realised that that clone had been made, not to test her accuracy in making Blakes, but to test his own reactions as a newly formed Travis? To make a clone who was unaware of his own nature was the harder art - the memory transfer had to be an exact and painstaking process. She had spared the original Travis by way of atonement for the death of the living Blake clone. The clone she had created of that Travis had never come to wakening, but its dead body had been sufficient to convince Servalan of the man's death.

      Where was he now, the man to whom she had granted life in accordance with the Rule of Life?

      A new star burst directly overhead and she welcomed it with open arms even as the impact burst around her. The mysteries of this life were over, but she had faith in the next.

      

      

Travis laughed aloud as the ship flipped over in a tight loop. The sheer exhilaration of being in space again was worth any price. An alien ship flashed briefly into view and his co-pilot sent a short, sharp laser burst towards it. Twist and turn, the old skill hadn't deserted him yet. What did he care for the people in Krantor's corrupt empire? He hadn't volunteered for their sakes, but to be in space once more. The scanner showed a second ship moving to bracket him. A three second burn on the retros and he dropped back, evaded the trap, and headed low into the planet's gravity well. The Andromedans fought badly close to atmosphere, he'd already learnt that. Their ships might have been ideal for crossing deep space, but their total lack of aerodynamics gave them too much drag to manoeuvre well.

      Unheeding of his danger, the Andromedan pilot followed. Travis held his course, down, straight down, until the man beside him clenched at the arms of his seat in terror. Energy bolts streaked past them, fiery trails marking their passage. Only when the hull sensors showed a temperature approaching the safety maximum did he begin to pull his ship's nose up. A pursuit ship, he would have taken past the safety margin, but this aged blockade runner was twenty years out of date and in need of a good overhaul. The hull vibrated as the ship resisted the turn, the short stubby wings barely holding up under the strain. With the momentum gained from the dive, he sped upwards, twisting into another loop to come suddenly past the alien ship, allowing his partner to rake her flanks with laser bursts.

      Fire burst from the aft of the vessel, spreading in jagged tongues across her hull. Three seconds later, she exploded.

      Travis didn't wait for applause, not that there would have been any. There would be more of them out there. A tight orbit to lose any that were waiting for him to emerge, and then back into the fray. He hadn't had this much fun since...

      Since he'd met his counterpart.

      

      


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Vanessa Mullen

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