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Garla had found a spare instigator uniform in her counterpart’s office after balking at the notion of undressing her doppelganger and putting on the dead woman’s clothing, and not just because it would have been difficult to hide the prominent tear in her jacket or the bloodstains.

Together they had stashed the other Garla in a closet and Lif thought, that after she had pulled on the black outfit and slightly adjusted her hair, she’d easily pass for her local alter ego, even if perhaps closer scrutiny would have revealed a few inconsistencies.

They were not significant enough, however, to raise suspicions with the guards manning the detention center in the basement of the building. Since Instigator Garla had apparently not shared any concern with her staff regarding a possible security breach, Lif and Garla managed to make their way to the detention center with relative ease, Garla only having to field a single question about her planned departure for the homeworld, which the trained spymaster had handled with confident aplomb, letting the assistant know that her departure plans were merely delayed rather than canceled outright which would have, no doubt, raised red flags.

After having gained access to the detention center, Lif was hardly surprised to find that it was mostly occupied by Outlanders of various races, predominantly with lupine T’aq, who apparently shared their more bellicose attributes with their counterparts in his universe. Judging by the sight of the many desperate and desolate faces of the prisoners, as well as their many physical scars, the Krellonians used torture and violence far more frequently, and perhaps even to better effect, than those of his Star Alliance. Or so he hoped for his own universe’s sake.

“We don’t treat Outlanders like this,” she said quietly after reading his facial expressions while they walked passed cell after cell packed with obviously mistreated prisoners.

“It isn’t that much better though,” he said, keeping his voice low as well to ensure they would not be overheard by the two guards who were escorting them through the complex.

“I was going to change all that.”

He remembered her plan of a stand-alone society in which Krellonians and the Outlanders were living entirely separately from each other. He hadn’t much cared for the idea when she had first proposed it to him. Ultimately, however, after seeing the direction their society was headed, he had started to believe that no matter how ugly of a solution it had seemed, perhaps it was better than none at all. It certainly was a preferred outcome to what they were witnessing here and a return to all-out slavery.

“Even if we find our way back,” she said, shaking her head. “That’s all over now.”

Lif had little time to ponder this further as the guards stopped in front of a cell that stood apart from all the others.

Inside he immediately spotted four familiar faces. He was relieved to find that the members of the away team were all seemingly unharmed, neither of them having been subjugated to Krellonian torturing efforts just yet.

Unfortunately, however, their holographic camouflage devices had been located and removed, revealing all four of them as obviously non-Krellonians.

Tazla Star stood nearest to the force field and must have heard the approaching footsteps. Sensy and the Vulcan Ivory were standing near the sidewall, with the red-bearded Niner looking almost casual with his large, muscular arms crossed in front of his broad chest and leaning against the partition. Violet was half sitting on a bare cot at the far end of the small cell, seemingly paying little attention to what was happening outside.

“You were correct, Instigator,” the guard captain said as he looked over his prisoners. “They are foreign spies. Considering their racial composition, they are most likely Federation agents. We were just about to commence interrogation to learn of their mission here.”

“That will not be necessary,” Lif said but then quickly regretted being so quick about it when he spotted the captain’s confused expression.

“I will deal with them personally,” said Garla. “I have my own methods to obtain information from uncooperative prisoners which are far more reliable than conventional means.”

She sounded so convincing, Lif wondered how much of this was an act and how much was in fact based on reality.

“As you wish.”

“Leave us.”

“Instigator, with all due respect, I don’t believe that would be a good idea. These people are clearly well-trained operatives. They would never have gotten this far otherwise.”

Garla turned on the man and looked him straight in the eye. “Forgive me, Chief Justicar, but it almost sounded as if you were implying that I am incapable of handling foreign spies and that they may possess skills superior to my own. Surely that could not have been your meaning, could it?”

He noticeably swallowed. As a sentinel operating for the Eye of Krellon in their universe, Garla was an imposing and powerful figure, no doubt in this reality Instigator Garla was not just respected but likely feared by her own people as well. “Of course not. We will be nearby should you require our assistance.”

“And deactivate all active and passive surveillance for this area. There shall be no permanent records of what is about to transpire here.”

He nodded and this time he followed her order without hesitation, contacting the control room via his communications device to instruct them to immediately cease all visual and other surveillance. Then he gestured to his fellow guard and they quickly walked back down towards the command post.

Garla waited until both men were out of earshot before she addressed Star. “I have to say, I am somewhat disappointed in the quality of Starfleet Intelligence operatives, seeing that you have managed to let yourself be imprisoned and have so far failed to overcome such a mundane obstacle without assistance.”

Star didn’t rise to the bait. “What makes you think I’m with Starfleet Intelligence?”

Garla stepped up closer to the force field until she stood almost exactly opposite the Trill. “Oh, but I can see it behind your eyes. The way you seem to constantly evaluate others, as well as your surroundings, speaks of a well-trained agent. If you aren’t active now, you were not too long ago.”

“I’ll get you out of this, Commander,” Lif said but then stopped short when he realized that there were no obvious controls to lower the force field nearby. “Just as soon as I figure out how.”

“There’s no need to hurry,” she said while keeping her eyes on Garla. “Sensy, the word is now.”

Lif looked back into the cell, slightly confused, only to see the SMT team leader step away from the wall to reveal that Ivory who had been standing directly behind him, had somehow managed to remove a panel on the wall and had her left hand buried deep inside it. She applied some pressure and the force field winked out.

Violet who had seemed mostly zoned-out just a moment before, sprang up into action, wielding a baton, ready to strike. Ivory had produced a tiny, matchbox-sized type-I phaser while Sensy revealed a hidden blade, glinting in the stark cell light. Lif had no idea how they had managed to conceal all that weaponry from the guards.

Star stepped out of the cell and right into Garla’s personal space, to her credit the Krellonian didn’t even flinch, hardly even showed surprise on her face. The Trill offered a little smile. “See, overcoming the obstacle isn’t the issue. It’s all about timing.”

“I guess I underestimated you, Commander,” Garla said, allowing a tiny bit of respect to seep into her tone.

She offered the Krellonian a nod and then stepped up to Lif. “It looks as if my confidence in you, however, has paid off, Lieutenant. I knew you’d come through for us and I didn’t want to complicate matters by an untimely escape attempt,” she said and then glanced back at Garla. “Can I assume you are with us and willing to return to Eagle now?”

“Don’t consider us allies,” she said. “But for now our goals are generally aligned. Chief amongst them is to get as far away as possible from this perverted version of my home.”

“First things first,” said Sensy who followed Star out of the cell along with his two fellow Niners. “We need to get out of this prison and back to the runabout.”

“We spotted a transporter station in the control room on our way here. But there are a lot of guards there. We won’t be able to just walk passed them with you,” Lif said.

“I hate to suggest this, but our only way out of here may be to create a diversion,” said the chief SMT operator and glanced towards the other cells.

Lif didn’t like the sound of this at all and shook his head. “Even if we managed to open those cells, in all likelihood it would end in slaughter. We can’t allow that.”

There was a moment of silence and Lif hoped that it was because they were trying to come up with an alternative plan, even if he was drawing nothing but blanks.

It was Garla who spoke up first. “I don’t see any other way. And let’s face it, these Outlanders would relish the chance to get some payback on their torturers. Their ultimate fate is most likely already sealed.”

“Doesn’t mean we have to speed it up for them,” Lif said and glanced at Star for support.

“I don’t like it any more than you do, Lif, but if we want to get out of here alive, this is our best bet. And who knows, some of these prisoners might be able to escape as well.”

“And go where? The entire planet is a labor camp and we’ve already seen how the border force handles anyone who manages to get off-world.”

In the end, Lif lost the argument since both Star and Garla, for perhaps the first time ever, were on the same page. He knew he had no choice but to go along with it, no matter how much it pained him.

Ivory managed to gain access to the remaining force fields much the same way as she had gained access to the one to their cell, a design flaw Lif was sure the local security forces would address once all this was said and done.

“Get ready,” Sensy said, which was the signal for Lif and Garla to reach for their appropriated phasers, while the rest of the team relied on the weaponry they had managed to smuggle into the cell, including another telescopic baton which Violet had passed on to Star.

Sensy glanced at Ivory, giving her the wordless signal.

The force fields of the entire block shut down at the same time and a moment later so did the bright overhead lights in both the cells and the corridors outside. Nominal illumination was restored almost immediately via amber-colored emergency lighting which gave the entire prison an eerie, almost foreboding quality.

Star and the Niners marched down the corridor first, setting an example for the other prisoners which quickly got the idea as they began to flow out of their cells with newfound energy, anger and most of all, motivation. Garla had remained right, like penned up race hounds, the Outlanders had been straining for a start, and now that they were set free, they were like a rubber band released, shooting out of their pens with murder and hatred in their minds and hearts.

It didn’t take long at all for the Outlander prisoners to overtake Star and the Niners to barrel ahead like a crushing wave rolling over the totally surprised and unprepared guards.

Garla and Lif stayed mostly in the back, both of them understanding that they would likely make an incredibly inviting target to the enraged Outlanders.

With alarm sirens blasting, the guards quickly regrouped and now fully armed began to cut down the Outlanders en masse, but not without taking casualties themselves. Lif once again marveled at the quickness and athleticism of the T’aq, who used their strong hind legs to leap right into the middle of the guard formations and in lieu of weapons, used their sharp teeth to bite and rip at their jailers, causing horrific screams and vicious, bloody wounds, creating a scene which Lif was sure would provide fodder for weeks of disturbing dreams.

The Niners moved among the confusion and chaos like ghosts, which was remarkable considering how much they didn’t fit into this scene. Where the Outlanders were mostly a chaotic mob, the SMT assault was based on combat tactics, quickly identifying the lieutenants and senior officers who were giving the orders, and deftly taking them out of the picture first with a well-placed dagger to their side here, a baton strike to their kneecaps and heads there, or in Ivory’s case, using her superior physical strength and precision to twist a neck or two; no graceful nerve pinch for this Vulcan.

When Lif spotted an elder T’aq being caught dead to rights by a rifle-wielding guard, he didn’t even hesitate, and fired his phaser right at the Krellonian, causing his head to implode on itself. Somewhere, in the back of his mind, he felt disgusted with himself, and yet, strangely, also relaxed about it all, as if this was a most natural cycle, which had begun when he had been forced to kill an Outlander in his universe, now having graduated to kill a fellow Krellonian in another as payback.

There was, of course, not much time to consider such philosophical concerns as he pushed forward, taking care to avoid being targeted by the prisoners as an enemy but also taking full advantage of any guard believing him to be an ally.

Garla moved as gracefully as he had witnessed her do the previous times they had been caught in combat. She was once more using her personal cloak to full effect, momentarily winking out of existence only to reappear behind a hapless guard to impale him with her blade or finish him with a phaser blast at point-blank range.

“Instigator, what is happening here?”

Lif could see that the chief justicar who ran the detention complex had managed to get behind her without her noticing his approach. Thankfully he was still too perplexed to realize that Garla was not on his side and killing his men indiscriminately.

“I’ve decided that I don’t much care for your attitude,” she said coolly and then pointed her phaser at his head and fired without delay, before stepping over his lifeless body, his eyes still wide open with a horrified and astonished expression on his face.

While the battle for the prison raged on behind them, Garla, Lif and the away team managed their way to the compact transporter alcove, likely designed for prisoner transfer. Lif immediately headed for the console, pushing the operator who had been efficiently disposed of by Star’s baton earlier aside. He shook his head when he realized that it wouldn’t help them escape the prison. “It’s been locked down.”

“I’m sure we can get around that,” said Garla and stepped up to the console. She activated the comm. unit and the face of a young officer appeared.

“Instigator,” he said, clearly surprised to see her face. “We have an emergency situation in the detention complex.”

“I would say so,” she shot back, wiping some of her victim’s blood off her face. “And things aren’t looking good down here. I need you to lift the transporter lockdown right now.”

This seemed to startle the young man. “Protocol dictates that in the case of a prison riot”“

“Don’t you dare lecture me on protocol,” she hissed. “If I were to come to harm because our incompetent security forces weren’t able to contain this situation, I will make sure you will be held personally accountable for your inactions. Perhaps protocol will come as a warm comfort to you on the day of your execution,” she said and then spat some more blood, including some of her own.

He nodded quickly, almost eagerly. “Lifting lockdown now.”

“Good, man,” she said and stabbed the comm. controls to turn them off. “It’s great to be loved,” she said to Lif. “But sometimes it’s far better to be feared.”

“Speak for yourself,” he said but was already focused on programming the transporter. “Done. I’ve set coordinates for the quarry. Ready to initialize.”

“Do it,” Star said and gestured for her people to step up on the transporter platform which they all did without delay, Star being the last to take her position, even waiting until Lif had entered the final command before leaping on the platform.

Moments later the prison and the chaos were gone, to be replaced by the frigid, blustery night in a quarry a few hundred kilometers away.

“There is a human saying that comes to mind right about now,” said Lif after he had materialized with the others not far from the runabout. “I think it goes something like this: From the frying pan into the fire.”

He thought it was an appropriate metaphor since they found themselves within the sights of at least a dozen heavily armed Krellonian soldiers who were seemingly investigating the shuttle Garla had used to get to Piqus. The team was led by a man with a face more than just familiar to him.

After all, it was his own.

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