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18


“Light-duty? Who does he think he is? More importantly, who does he think I am?” Garla fumed at him, just minutes after Lif had returned to the quarters they shared on the Yellow Rose after a few long hours assisting with repairs to the ship’s main navigational guidance system which partly due to his efforts was back to near one-hundred percent, speeding up their return to the nearest repair base.

It was clear that Garla, who had eventually managed to get herself released from the medical bay, was not happy with the caveat his counterpart had insisted upon in exchange for her newly won freedom.

“I suppose he thinks that he is a sentinel in this universe and that you are not,” he said, sounding a bit more flippant than he had planned which immediately garnered him a rather displeased glare from his aunt.

“I don’t think I care for your tone, Mister.”

Lif offered an apologetic gesture. “Look, he’s worried about you and wants to ensure that you are fully healed up.”

She shook her head. “I am not some precious doll likely to crack if you drop it a few too many times. I am a sentinel and that doesn’t change just because we are in a different universe. It also means that I’m used to taking action and I certainly don’t need to be coddled. If my alter ego in this universe was anything like me, Sentinel Culsten should be well aware that this approach is not going to make me consider staying here more favorably.”

Lif sat down in one of the large chairs of their shared lounge, his earlier conversation with Tenn quickly returning to the forefront of his thoughts. He had been so distracted with working on the navigational systems over the last few hours, he had not given his words a great deal more thought since. “You are seriously considering his offer to stay in this universe?”

She took a step towards him. “How could I not? Consider what you’ve seen here. The Star Alliance in this universe is not just strong, it is healthier than ours has ever been. The more I think of it, and the more I see here, the more I believe you were right all along.”

“Right about what?”

“About doubting my designs of a stand-alone society. I was so convinced that we were too far gone as a people that unity between Krellonians and Outlanders was simply impossible. That there were too much pain and hurt and history between us that we could ever hope to come together. And perhaps, for our universe, that is still true. But here things are very different. Here Krellonians and Outlanders work hand-in-hand like equals. And the Star Alliance is a much stronger place for it.”

“So then let’s take these lessons back to our universe. Let’s find a way to fix our Star Alliance,” Lif said.

But Garla shook her head. “I’ve had plenty of time while I was sidelined in the medical bay over the last few hours to read up about the history of this Star Alliance. It is very different from ours. The conquests of the Outlanders never happened here. The alliance came together in a much more mutually beneficial way.”

“Like the Federation,” Lif said.

Clearly, Garla didn’t care for that analogy but it appeared difficult to deny the similarities and she nodded begrudgingly. “What matters is that there is hope here. More than that, opportunity. I can make a real difference in this universe.”

“But it isn’t yours, Garla. You died here.”

She turned away with obvious frustration. “So what? Who is to say who belongs where?” she said and faced him again. “We have been given the ability to step from one reality into another, why not take advantage of this?”

“I don’t know. It just feels wrong to me.”

Garla sat down in a chair next to him. “Why? Because your beloved Federation is falling apart in this reality? Nothing is ever perfect and you have to accept sacrifice if you ever hope to make a change. And you know what? I would exchange a broken and crumbling Federation in favor of a healthy and thriving Star Alliance any day of the week. And as a Krellonian, so should you. You can finally come back home, Lif.”

He looked her right in the eye. “You think Sentinel Culsten would like having a doppelganger around? I doubt his offer extended to me. And I’m not even sure if he’s entirely honest about wanting you here in the first place.”

To that, she offered him a puzzled look. “What do you mean?”

“I mean that there is a good chance that my alternate is unstable. You have seen the way he acted on the bridge during the assault. He practically froze up when things turned sideways.”

“It happens to the best of people.”

“Would it have happened to you?”

Garla didn’t voice her opinion. “He had disastrously bad intelligence that led to his people getting killed. That’s a hard lesson for anyone.”

“He is a sentinel. Intelligence is his business. And from what I hear, it was his intelligence that got his people killed,” he said and shook his head. “He is in over his head, Garla. Blinded by ambition and willing to stop at nothing to get what he wants. I’ve seen that type before.”

She stood from the chair. “We’ve been in this universe a few hours and you are telling me you have already figured him out?”

“He is me. A version of me at least. A much darker version.”

“I refuse to believe that. And I made a career out of reading people,” she said sternly.

“Well, your senses are wrong here, Sentinel. This man might very well be responsible for your alter ego’s death.”

“What?”

He nodded. “There is no evidence of this, of course, but rumors abound. They disagreed quite a bit over the direction the Star Alliance should take and I think Sentinel Culsten decided it would be easier to get what he wants with her out of the way.”

“That’s insane.”

“Any more insane than versions of the both of us being part of a brutally fascist empire?” he said, referring to the Lif Culsten and Garla they had encountered in the previous reality they had visited.

“I get it,” she said. “You don’t want to stay here. You cannot stomach the idea that your Federation has degenerated into civil war and is being carved up by more powerful empires. But that doesn’t mean I can’t stay and make a difference. If you so desperately want to return to our universe to see the Star Alliance share that same fate, be my guest, but I refuse to be a witness to its downfall,” she said, turned, and walked out of the cabin.


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