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The Travis Affair

By Vanessa Mullen
Page 2 of 4

It had been the week after Christmas, shortly before Mardi Gras. Freedom City didn't operate by any normal calendar, it simply moved from one festival to another. The croupiers had all put away the red suits which seemed to be traditional for the season and were wearing what passed for their normal attire. Establishments around the rink were busy, but far from overflowing. He'd heard about Travis almost as soon as the man had landed. It would have been hard not to. Every third client passing through the brothel where he worked took pride in informing him that he had a twin brother hanging around Chenie's place: another man with an eyepatch and an artificial arm. And every one of them thought that the joke was original to him. He'd nearly broken the fifth man's arm. It would have been so easy to claim that he'd tried to leave without paying his girl, but then too many people roughed up were bad for business and it was a good job, he even got a free night with the girls when he wanted it.

      Once his duty shift ended at 2am, he'd gone to Chenie's to investigate for himself.

      The woman behind the bar was statuesque and blonde, not his type at all. She raised an eyebrow at him as he pounded a fist on the wood to attract her attention.

      "Don't say it," he growled.

      She tossed her head carelessly and looked him in the eye. "I wasn't going to."

      "Where is he?"

      "Travis?" The amount of contempt she managed to get into the word was amazing. "Why should I know?"

      He dropped a ten credit piece onto the counter, where it span and finally wobbled to a halt. She pocketed the coin disdainfully, dropping it into some hidden recess in her overfrilled costume. "He's a spacer, always after news of incoming ships. You'll likely find him at one of the spaceport flophouses; him and Kline."

      "Kline?"

      "Never heard of him."

      Impatient with her obvious play for more money, Travis snatched out with his left arm, grabbed a handfull of frills and pulled her up against the bar. "Tell me!"

      Her eyes bored into him, unintimidated.

      "I don't pay protection money for nothing. There'll be someone here in less than a minute if you don't let go."

      She was probably bluffing, but he almost respected her for the ploy. He released her abruptly and watched as she patted the low-cut shoulders of her dress back into position before deigning to pay him further attention.

      "Kline," he growled, showing her another coin.

      "He's a doctor, saved a lot of passengers when there was an explosion on the Bari. They always hang out together."

      A doctor. His mind flicked back to Mariott. That was when he'd first suspected something was wrong. Mariott had saved his life, but he'd felt nothing, nothing at all, not even when he knew that Mariott was dead. It was as if the man had never really existed for him. And of course, he hadn't. Mariott was a part of the false past they had given him, part of the memories to make him hate Blake. If he had Blake here, now, he'd kill him. Not because of the manipulation, he could fight that, but because Blake had broken through.

      Blake remembered.

      And Travis knew nothing of his real past. Fen had been unable or unwilling to help. "You must find your own life," she had said. He despised her for that. And the other Travis? If there was anyone he hated more than Blake, it was the man who had been given his identity, the Travis who had an identity.

      

      

The smell of the spaceport was what always lingered in the memory. Wherever you were, on whatever planet, the smell of exhaust fumes, grease, glycoline and spilt fuel was a heady mixture. Mostly, Travis avoided the place, it made the longing too great. He'd no money, no qualifications that he could show anyone and no desire to serve long weary months between planets on a tramp freighter when he'd once commanded the fastest ships in the fleet. He walked slowly between the docking cradles and the wide open spaces, the wind whipping at his jacket, floodlights casting a pasty yellow tinge to his face. Even at night the activity here never stopped: workers scurried between ships, loading and unloading, connecting supply lines, making last minute repairs and living the lives that dockers lived on a hundred planets.

      Identifying the Bari was easy, she lay in a repair cradle, the concrete around her filled with heavy-duty machinery. If they'd had any care for safety, they'd have been replacing the drive engine in a clean environment instead of out here in the open, but this was outside Federation space, regulations were lax, and the operators got away with everything they could. Doubtless more passengers would die before long. Travis shrugged. He didn't give a damn. There were only three things that mattered: his replacement, Servalan and Blake.

      If he'd landed on that ship and needed quick lodgings, what would he have done? The cheapest dives were beneath contempt, filled with the dross of humanity and offering no privacy at all. Privacy was important to him, he loathed his fellow human beings. He gazed across the ground, putting logic aside and let instinct take over.

      That way. He walked unhesitatingly to the right, passed through the casual checks made at the spaceport boundary and made his way down a series of small roads. This felt right. Not so different from the area where he'd stayed when he first arrived himself. He visited half a dozen hostelries, checking their database for his own name before hitting paydirt. Knowing your enemy had its advantages.

      He didn't bother arguing with the computer to admit him. He wouldn't have stayed in a place where everyone could gain admission, therefore his replacement wouldn't either. Instead, he buzzed the room, refusing to be silent until his enemy answered.

      <This had better be good,> an irate voice said. <It's four in the morning.>

      "I know you, Travis," he taunted, "I know everything about you. I know your mother, Mauritsa, your father, Benjamin. I know how Servalan betrayed you. I am your destiny, Travis."

      <You're a lunatic.>

      "I'm you. We're the same, Travis."

      The connection cut off. He waited. Sure enough, forty seconds later the lift opened to show his double wearing a loose fitting robe, gunhand raised and ready to fire. He'd been expecting physical differences, but it was still a shock. In spite of the eyepatch, the other man didn't look as he felt Travis ought to look, didn't look like him.

      Their weapons pointed steadily at each other. Two laseron destroyers, should make a nice mess of the hostel if they both fired at the same time.

      "Why not shoot?" Travis taunted. "Seen something you don't like?"

      His enemy - he refused to grant him the right to the name Travis - looked him up and down, taking in the eyepatch and the artificial hand with its inbuilt weapon pointing unerringly at his gut.

      "You're a complete and utter psychotic. No sane man would model himself on me."

      "But I'm not the copy. You are. Everything that you have ever been, you got from me."

      "Prove it." Short, sharp and to the point, just as he would have been.

      "You broke an arm when you were sixteen. Your sister is allergic to wheat protein. You served two years under Colonel Taylor and were promoted when you saved his life. You went-"

      "Stop!"

      Did he shout that loudly? Maybe there were some differences.

      "All these things are a matter of record. You're wasting my time."

      Was there a tiny hesitation in that voice? He wasn't sure. More personal memories then. But that meant revealing more of himself too.

      "You haven't been with a woman since Blake shot you. You're too proud to pay and too contemptuous of pity to take what some might offer. Those who seek you out for novelty's sake, repulse you."

      He could touch women now, because Sally's girls knew him. A co-worker. Once they had finally stopped noticing the arm, he had been able to share the occasional pleasurable night. But this other Travis would not have had that opportunity. Travis would be as he had been - almost afraid of sex. The thought galvanized him; he could hurt this arrogant bastard who had his memories but dared to look so different. It would be so easy. So very very easy.

      

      


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