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Identity Crisis

By Gemini
Page 2 of 10

      "Sit down, and I'll explain." Harriman gestured to a chair.

      Blake took a seat, and after a moment, Avon followed suit. Harriman pulled a chair from in front of a terminal and began: "Last year, I was doing research into the way personality traits affect brain rhythms, when I came across the results of an earlier project. It was an attempt to discover the causes of aberrant behaviour in dissidents. Many prints were taken from political criminals and studied for common patterns. When you were first arrested, before your trial and subsequent confession, the authorities took your brain print."

      "A library of rebels?" Avon queried. "A dangerous collection, I should have thought. Any aspiring rebel leader acquiring a copy could instantly make himself into a carbon copy of Blake. Not," he added sardonically, "that I can actually imagine anyone wanting to become like Blake. One illogically minded fanatic in the galaxy is quite enough."

      "Wouldn't work," Harriman replied. "A brain print is very specific to an individual brain. Copy a brain print onto the mind of another individual, and the data wouldn't match the genetic structure of the brain. The result would be instant insanity."

      "Would anyone notice the difference in Blake's case?"

      Blake interrupted. "You're saying that the print they took then can be mapped back onto my brain. But what about events since then? I don't want to lose my memory of recent events, I'd be just as badly off as before."

      "No, no," Harriman gestured impatiently. "The way in which your brain stores memory is sequential. New memories are laid down in different positions to old ones. The old memories will only overwrite the portion of the brain where they were originally stored. Newer memories will be untouched." He leaned forward eagerly. "Don't you see? You can be a whole man once again."

      It was tempting, terribly tempting.

      "And suppose this is all an elaborate plot," Avon said. "A way to restore Blake to being a puppet of the Federation once more? Perhaps that print belongs to another man and you're lying about the genotype needing to match?"

      Harriman shrugged. "Devise your own safeguards, if you wish. I have nothing to be afraid of."

      "Why are you doing this? What's in it for you?"

      "When I realised that the print existed, I had no choice but to steal a copy. I knew Blake: I was a member of the Freedom Party."

      Blake felt certainty take over. "Avon, I want to do this. Can you understand? I have to do it." He gazed into Avon's eyes until he saw reluctant agreement there. "I won't do it blindly. I want you with me all the time. If anything goes wrong, kill Harriman. And Avon," he hesitated a moment, the words suddenly difficult to say, "if anything goes really badly wrong, kill me. I'd rather be dead than betray my friends again."

      Avon understood the message. All the messages in fact. He'd never known anyone like Blake for packing so much meaning into one sentence. Probably what had made the man such a good rabble rouser. The surface meaning was obvious. Blake would rather be dead than a slave to the Federation once more. Much though he'd like to have dismissed it as theatrics, he had to believe it, because Blake must know that Avon was quite capable of killing him. The secondary message was for Harriman, to let him know that his life was on the line and that even in the unlikely event that Harriman was willing to die to give Blake to the Federation, they would still lose. The third meaning though, that was the killer. It always had been. Blake was calmly and deliberately placing his life in Avon's hands. Even now, Avon found that hard to get used to, because no one ever trusted him. No one except Blake. And Blake did it quite casually as though it was a matter of no moment at all, as though Avon wasn't the man who had embezzled five million credits, wasn't the man who had caused Anna's death, wasn't the man who had come within a hair's breadth of abandoning Blake on Cygnus Alpha. Because Blake was a stupid, idealistic, woolly-headed... Avon stopped, lost for a word that combined friend and moron all in one. Blake was simply Blake and it was impossible for Avon to decide whether he hated him more than he... Well, perhaps it was simpler to just think about hating him.

      "All right," he said, because there wasn't really anything else to say.

      

      

The operation, such as it was, appeared to be relatively straightforward, but seemed to last for hours. According to Harriman, the difficult part was taking the brain print in the first place. Avon, gowned and wearing a mask, watched the entire proceeding. The painstakingly slow transfer of data continued in a long, drawn out silence. Avon understood the barest fraction of what was going on, but then he only had one part to play. He cradled his gun, filled with uncertainties, and waited for Blake to regain consciousness.

      

      

The body on the bed was flaccid and oddly lifeless in repose. Avon knew from the breathing that Blake was alive, but without the power and vitality of the whole man. If he were to reach out and touch the body now, there would be no response of any kind. And in knowing that, there was no temptation to touch. Here in the silence, with only Harriman and the flickering monitors for company, he was free to consider the other draw Blake had for him. A feeling only nebulous and half formed, but a pull towards that essential masculine force that was Blake.

      

      

The brainwave pattern on the monitors was steady now. Harriman was speaking softly. "Blake, this is Harriman. You'll be waking up in a moment. You'll feel strange and confused at first. You'll have a lot of unfamiliar memories. Don't make any sudden moves, relax, lie still and let your mind work out what's happened. Remember, I'm here to help you."

      Still Avon waited silently. There was a subtle change in the body before him, so slight that he wasn't sure that he was imagining it. A slight tension in the limbs that suddenly lent animation to the flesh. There was no movement, and yet the whole quality of the man had changed. Now, Avon was aware of the life force, the whole subtle quality of a living being. Each minute hair was in some way charged, each muscle had shape. He was subliminally aware of the smell of Blake's skin. He moved closer, trying to understand his own reaction, studying Blake's face for signs of animation. Then the eyes flickered open, looking directly into his own.

      "Avon?" Blake asked uncertainly.

      "Who else?"

      "Is it all right if I sit up?"

      "Wait." Before anything else, he had a duty to carry out, a promise to fulfil. Avon held his gun carefully, covering both Harriman and Blake. "Answer me three questions: Which is Vila's flight position? What colour outfit was Cally wearing when you first met her? What is my middle name?"

      "Take it carefully," Harriman cautioned Blake. "You know the answers, but your mind will still be a bit confused. Just relax."

      Blake glanced at Harriman. "It's all right. I'll manage." He turned his attention back to Avon. "Vila takes front left. Cally was wearing red. I don't know what your middle name is. Do you have one?"

      Avon allowed himself a genuine smile and replaced the gun in its holster. "Welcome back."

      Blake sat up cautiously and rubbed his forehead. "I've got a helluva headache."

      "Do you remember anything new?"

      "Oh yes, I remember a lot of things." Blake came unsteadily to his feet and crossed the short distance to the table where his gunbelt lay. He picked up the weapon and swivelled it to point between Avon's eyes. "Lots of things."

      

      


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