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Double Life

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The worst thing was, he hadn't believed it. He'd thought it was all a lie, exactly the kind of thing you'd expect from terrorists. When Security arrived, he'd been trying to figure out how to report Bran Foster and his gang without getting himself in trouble.

Or maybe the worst thing was that even now, he still couldn't believe it. He knew himself. (What there was to know.) He was ordinary. Decent enough fellow, Roj Blake, the sort who did his paperwork conscientiously and never exceeded his budget, but never got promoted. On free days he went to the pub to watch the match and cheered along with everyone else. His conversation was sufficiently dull that no one ever sought it out.

Not exactly a leader of men.

He said so to the psychoadjuster, who nodded encouragingly. He told himself the same thing, hour by hour in his cell with nothing to do but think. Talking to himself, reassuring himself--perhaps he was going mad. Perhaps none of it was true, not even the troopers and the shots and twenty people dead on the floor.

He must be going mad.

That would explain why he was beginning to remember giving a speech.

Well, not exactly remember. A kind of flash, like a clip from a vid-drama, except that he was the drama, or at least everyone was watching him. All those attentive faces. And when it flashed over him, through him, feelings came with it. Excitement, and anxiety, and hope.

It couldn't be real, because he wasn't the kind of man to do that.

But there were so many flashes.

Slipping leaflets under doors in the middle of the night. Hiding a datadisk under a snack machine's serving flap. Waiting, terrified, behind a tower of deep space cargo crates. Talking with people whose faces he didn't recognize now, but who felt safe and familiar in that other life. As though they'd been his friends.

Nonsense.

Even the ordinary things were impossible. An exam room full of scribbling students, where he worked complex equations with confidence. But he knew that he'd barely got into the engineering course because he was rotten at maths. That's why the Aquitar project had turned him down, why he'd been slotted into management.

He remembered drinking tea with his sister and laughing, when in fact they'd never been close. He remembered reading old books, paper books, when he'd never liked the smell.

He remembered kissing someone. He remembered a warm, bare body sharing his bed. But that must be false, because he'd never been interested.

Wasn't that strange, that he'd never been interested?

He remembered a tiny bar, people packed sardine-tight, and not a woman in the place.

He remembered the feel of stubble under his palm.

He remembered darkness, and a sticky floor hurting his knees, and a musky smell, and his mouth wide around stiff flesh.

He remembered liking it.

And so he sat in his bright cell with his face in his hands, trying not to weep, trying not to remember any more things that couldn't possibly be true.