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|Newly graduated Cadet Travis stepped from the compound where he'd just spent two years of life learning to be a soldier. A two-week pass was tucked safely away in his pocket. He stood at the gate for a while, watching the other graduates leave in small groups. Most had made plans to spend their leave together, but Travis hadn't been invited by anyone. That didn't really bother him; as the only Delta in the mostly Alpha class, he was used to being snubbed.
Travis decided the first thing he would do was get something to eat. Food at the Academy, while nourishing, had been very bland and unappetizing. He walked down the street and finally stopped at a little restaurant tucked away off the main thoroughfare. He sat at a table and glanced over the menu. Resisting the urge to order one of everything, he finally settled on a spicy dish. Thirty minutes and a full stomach later, he was walking aimlessly down the street again.
Since he didn't have any plans, he decided to go visit the Delta Section he'd grown up in. Maybe he could even find a few of his old friends and regale them with tales of his days at the Academy. He hopped on the nearest shuttle train and sat back, enjoying the ride. As they got closer and closer to the Delta domes, the train rapidly emptied. Soon he was the only one left in his car. As the shuttle pulled into the station, he stood and self-consciously straightened his uniform before disembarking.
As he stepped onto the street, he looked around, trying to get his bearings. The place had changed in the two years he'd been gone. It was even dirtier and more cluttered than before, though Travis wouldn't have thought that possible. He started towards his old neighborhood.
As he walked through the crowd, he couldn't help noticing all the stares being directed his way. It took him a while to realize it was because Federation personnel rarely visited the Delta area, unless it was to quell trouble. Travis hurried his pace a little.
Suddenly, he was bumped from behind. He felt something slip out of his pocket. Reaching back, he noticed his wallet was missing. He turned and saw a figure running through the crowd. "Hey! Stop!" he shouted, and started off in pursuit.
The man was dodging agilely through the streets, but Travis, being taller than most of the people, was able to keep him in sight. The person suddenly ducked into an alleyway, and Travis followed. He saw the young man stopped at the dead end. Travis approached him cautiously, then turned back at a noise. Five other men had come in behind him, closing off the exit out of the alley.
"Is this person bothering you?" one asked the pickpocket.
"Yes, he's been following me, and I don't like that." The five closed in on Travis, who was looking for something to use as a weapon. One of them pushed Travis, and he nearly fell.
"You're a little lost, aren't you, Alpha?" the one who'd pushed him sneered.
"Don't you know it's dangerous in the Delta domes?" asked another. "You could get hurt, even killed!" Another hand shoved Travis, and he stumbled against the wall, and stood with his back against it.
He held his temper in check. He knew he could easily defend himself, but he wasn't looking for trouble. "I'm not an Alpha," he said quietly. "I'm a Delta."
That stopped the antagonizers momentarily. "He's lying," said one. "Deltas don't get in the Academy."
"He sounds like a Delta," another said uncertainly. Suddenly the one who'd stolen the wallet pushed through the others to stand before Travis.
He stared at him, then said, "Travis? Is that you?"
Travis studied the thief intently, then exclaimed, "Garn!"
"Leave him alone," Garn ordered the others. "I know him."
Travis stared at his once best friend. "What are you doing, Garn? You're not a thief!"
Garn looked steadily at him. "Don't sound so surprised. What do you expect me to do? I have to eat."
"Why don't you get a job?"
Garn snorted. "Easier said than done. And even if I could, I still wouldn't have enough. I make more doing this."
"What happened to you?" Travis shook his head. "You don't have to live like this."
"What do you know?" Garn lashed out angrily. "You're wearing a fancy uniform; you've got plenty to eat and a place to sleep. How often have you been hungry? Cold?" Travis didn't answer. Garn looked away, disgusted. "You're just like the Alphas you hob-nob with now, aren't you? Better than everyone else."
"That's not true!" Travis protested. "I had to work hard for this. Believe me, the Alphas don't want to be around me. But I made it; you could, too."
Garn laughed sarcastically. "Forget it," he said. "You're just a freak, Travis. They'd never let any of us near enough to the Academy to even try to join. You just lucked out, or something. But don't pass judgment on me. I live the best way I can. And I'm still alive, so I must be doing all right." He pushed past Travis and started to leave, motioning for the others to follow.
"Wait!" Travis said in a hard voice, grabbing Garn's arm. "I want my wallet back." He and Garn stared at each other for a long moment, then Garn dropped the wallet at Travis' feet and left without another word.
Travis watched them go, then slowly bent down and retrieved his money. He stood in the alley, considering what Garn had said. Then he left, intending to catch a shuttle back to the Federation compound. All of a sudden, the thought of two weeks with nothing to do didn't appeal to him as much. Maybe he could find some work to do on base. He got on the train, and didn't look back as it slowly pulled out of the station.
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