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It hadn’t taken much time at all for it to become painfully clear to Lif Culsten how different this universe’s version of his home truly was. While the Federation and Starfleet, including the people they had encountered in this reality, seemed to closely mirror those on his side, things were shockingly different on Piqus and by all indication, throughout the Star Alliance.

And yet small and seemingly unimportant details were almost exactly the same, this much seemed apparent when Garla led him into the exact same skyscraper he had visited previously when he had first come to see her on Piqus.

He didn’t believe that even Garla knew exactly if she was heading in the right direction, and when he tried to speak to her, she simply hushed him, insisting they didn’t talk until they were alone and out of earshot of anyone who could call their identities into question.

But like it had been the case with the patrol which had taken Star and the others into custody, none of the guards and officials working in the building challenged Garla as they strode confidently through the lobby and Lif was reminded of the old saying common even among his people that as long as you behaved as if you belonged, nobody thought of protesting your presence.

There was more to this here, of course, since it was apparent that both their doppelgangers in this universe were highly influential people, Garla’s double more so since she was being afforded even more respect and seemed to wield greater influence then she did in their universe.

As it was, not a single person stopped them as they walked straight to the elevator, stepped inside and rode it all the way up to the same floor she’d had her office in a universe away. In fact, they found it in exactly the same corner section where Lif had expected it.

Garla waited for him to follow her inside and then made sure to lock the doors behind him.

It was only then that Lif allowed himself to breathe again.

Garla walked over to the large, ceiling-high windows which allowed a spectacular view of the city which was lit up brighter than most population centers Lif had visiting within the Star Alliance.

He wasn’t interested in the view. “We have to get our people.”

“They aren’t my people,” she said, keeping her back to him and her gaze intently focused on the cityscape below, one which was dominated by massive factories and warehouses which differently to those on the Piqus they knew, seemed to be fully operational and apparently running around the clock. Lif was sure he had already encountered the people who toiled in them.

He took a step closer to her. “They are more your people than the Krellonians in this hellhole.”

She turned to face him. “But they are still Krellonians, Lif.”

He shook his head. “Not the ones we know. You’ve seen what this society is. It’s built on slave labor and ruthless obedience. Surely this is not what you wanted for the Star Alliance.”

“Then maybe we need to try and change things.”

“That would be a tall order, I imagine. And what about our people at home? You had great plans for our society. Are you willing to give all that up to try and fight a battle here which you might never win? Let’s say you do. Let’s assume that you can change this place which, for all we know, has operated in this manner for centuries. What’s next? Do you plan to roam the quantum-verse, one universe at the time and try to fix what is wrong with all of them? It’s an impossible task.”

“Maybe somebody has to do it,” she said and Lif couldn’t quite tell if she truly was committed as her words seemed to imply. “We have been given an opportunity. Perhaps it is our duty to grasp it and remake this word and any other we may find. Maybe that’s what all this has been about.”

“I refuse to believe that. I feel for these people, I really do, especially the Outlanders who seem to be no better than slaves. But our responsibility has to be to our universe. We have to ensure that our society doesn’t devolve into something like this,” he said and indicated towards the city.

Garla shot him a pointed look. “Our responsibility?”

It hadn’t even occurred to him until she had pointed it out that he had used that term, that he had subconsciously included himself in trying to find a solution for the deteriorating state of his people after he had for so long attempted to distance himself from them. He had little time to consider this verbal slip up further since the doors, which he was certain Garla had locked behind her, were beginning to open.

Not a moment later, Garla stepped into the room.

The woman who owned the office stopped after spotting Lif and her own counterpart and the two Garla’s simply regarded each other for a moment.

“I was in the process of departing for the homeworld when somebody mentioned to me that they thought they had seen me enter my office which I thought to be peculiar since I hadn’t been here all day,” she said slowly, keeping her eyes on her double. “Yet here we both are.”

Garla Prime didn’t speak as she simply regarded the other her.

Instigator Garla stepped closer to the window and her counterpart, her face displaying an expression of curiosity, much more so than anger or annoyance. “I know who I am, which leaves the question who you are? A foreign spy made to look like me?” she said and then shook her head. “No, I don’t think so, since I can tell there are differences in the way you wear your hair and your clothing. A clone, perhaps? Or maybe a shapeshifter? Could you be a time traveler?”

“All good guesses,” Garla said. “None of them are quite right.”

She nodded. “How intriguing,” she said and when Garla Prime made a move towards her, the other woman pulled out a phaser and pointed it at her. “Forgive the aggressive stance but in my line of work it pays to be overcautious.”

Garla Prime nodded as she stopped and regarded the weapon. “I understand perfectly.”

“I suppose if you are anything like me you would,” she said and the glanced over to Lif. “I am assuming you are not my Lif Culsten then?”

“Not really, no.”

“I didn’t think so,” she said and focused in on her doppelgänger again, clearly quite fascinated by encountering a living mirror image of herself. “You know, I’ve often wondered what it would be like to have more than one of me. What I -we-could accomplish together.”

“That thought had crossed my mind as well.”

“We seem to be very much alike,” she said and uttered a little laugh. “Beyond the physical aspect, I mean.”

Lif took a step forward. “Except that we don’t come from a place where we treat people like slaves.”

She considered him curiously. “You mean the Outlanders?” she said and shrugged. “I take it you must be fairly impressed by what you’ve seen here. The things we’ve been able to achieve since we have conquered the lower races and given them a true purpose.”

“Disgusted is probably the better term,” he said not doing a great job of masking his feelings as he took a small step towards her large desk.

She offered a grin at that. “I see. Sounds to me you share those patronizing Federation sensibilities then. What a shame.”

“I do not,” said Garla Prime and took a careful step forward. “In fact, I care nothing for the Federation. I believe they are a sickening influence on the galaxy with their tiresome insistence that every race follow their outdated and inefficient ethical standards and thereby corrupting the true meaning of strength and power.”

“Yes, yes,” she said, nodding. “I think I like you.”

“I’ve heard the speech you’ve made earlier. I have to admit a great many things you said I had never truly considered before. See, I too am looking to restore Krellonian greatness. And I think, perhaps, you have it all figured out already. Perhaps your model is the one to follow,” she said, closing in further.

Instigator Garla stayed rooted to the spot as she regarded her counterpart carefully. “You say all the right things, I have to admit. And I want to believe you are being genuine, I really do. But here’s the thing: Even if you are, I don’t plan to share my power and with two of us, who is to say whom the people will follow?” She raised her weapon to take aim at the other Garla. “I’m afraid I will have to kill you now.”

“You don’t wish to learn where I’ve come from?”

She shrugged. “I’m sure, in time I will find out. But the risk of having you around is just too great. And you’ll be amazed what they can tell from dead bodies these days.”

Lif had also managed to slowly inch his way closer to the instigator and her desk. Realizing what was about to happen, he reached out for a mobile computer terminal within arm’s length of him on top of the desk and quickly tossed it, aiming it at her head.

Garla seemed to have anticipated such a move and dodged the device flying towards her easily and in response opened fire at Lif who was already jumping for cover behind the desk.

He wasn’t quite fast enough and the greenish energy blast struck him in the right arm as he went down hard onto the floor.

What the instigator had apparently not expected was for her counterpart to disappear right in front of her eyes. “That is a nice trick you have there,” she said, carefully surveying her office to look for a trace of the other woman. “I will make sure to add it to my own repertoire once I have killed you.”

“A shame you won’t get that chance.”

The instigator whirled around but it was for naught.

Lif could hear the telltale sound of a blade cutting through cloth and skin. As he pulled himself up from behind the desk with his good arm, he could see Instigator Garla’s eyes open wide as the tip of a blade penetrated her chest, rapidly soaking her black suit in dark red blood.

Garla Prime materialized just behind her, her head right next to her double to speak right straight into her ear. “As is the fact that my counterpart in this universe is such a bitch,” she twisted that blade slightly, causing the instigator to twitch slightly before the life left her eyes. Then she slipped off the blade and dropped to the floor.

The remaining Garla glanced over to Lif. “Are you all right?”

“Considering the circumstances,” he said, holding his shot arm which burned terribly. “I think the blast just grazed me. Still, it would be nice if I could stop getting shot when I’m around you.”

Garla wasn’t paying him any more attention. Instead, she had squatted down next to her dead counterpart and stared into her empty eyes.

Lif slowly walked over to her, but not before making sure that those doors were still closed and locked again. Since he hadn’t heard the sound of guard boots stampeding towards the office, he assumed that Instigator Garla, in her overconfidence, had not called for backup before coming to her office, nor had anyone outside seemed to have overheard the altercation that had just transpired.

“Looking at your own dead face is disturbing,” Garla said.

“It’s not your face.”

She nodded slowly and then reached out for the dead woman’s head to close her eyes. Then she stood, once again staring out the window and the Piqus night. “It’s all been one big lie,” she said.

“What do you mean?”

“I’ve seen all this before,” she said.

“You’ve visited this universe before? How?”

She shook her head. “I’ve never set foot in this place before today. But they showed this to me. They said that this was what the Star Alliance would become if we didn’t take action and like a fool, I believed them.”

It took him a moment to understand. “Your allies? The subspace aliens?”

She nodded. “I thought this was the future,” she said and laughed. “When in truth it was just another reality, completely unrelated to my own.”

“You never did tell me how you thought you could fix the Star Alliance?”

“What does it matter now? They were all lies anyway. Lies to get me to provide them the resources they needed for that Creator-forsaken Ring.”

He stepped up behind her. “Then help us defeat them,” he said. “Let’s get Star and the others and get out of this place. Together we can find a way to confront these creatures and destroy their plans.”

“And make them regret ever crossing me.”

He nodded. “Sure, that too.”

She turned around and offered him a little smile. “Looks like we’re going to work together after all.”

“I suppose that’s what family does.”

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