She found the next corridor empty with few doors, none of which appeared operational and so she continued to the next junction where she carefully considered her two options.
A faint sound coming from her left decided for her. Keeping her rifle at the ready position, she slowly made her way down the curved corridor, staying close to the near bulkhead.
She stopped when she spotted the source of the sound.
A heavy set of doors were malfunctioning, continuously hissing open before attempting to unsuccessfully shut again.
She approached the doors cautiously and found that they led into a cargo bay. The damaged doors allowed for an intermittent, narrow gap, just wide enough for her to slip through.
She did one last quick survey of her surroundings and the little area she could see inside the cargo bay, unable to spot anything noteworthy or dangerous, and then, lowering her rifle, she jumped through the gap.
The doors practically slammed shut behind her so quickly, she came close to being trapped in-between them.
She quickly brought her weapon back up. The spacious cargo bay was even darker than the corridors outside, the red alert beacons barely illuminating half of the cavernous space, much of it filled with canisters and containers, and the light of her rifle felt but like a drop in the ocean.
She took a few slow steps deeper inside before she froze upon hearing a faintly metallic sound somewhere to her left.
Her instincts kicked in and she spun to her right and just in time to intercept a blow that had been meant for her head.
She had been quick enough to keep her attacker from landing a hit but had been caught unaware enough to lose her rifle as it went scattering across the deck.
She had little time to try and recognize who had set upon her, let alone think, as she was too preoccupied with fending off several rapid strikes, designed to take her down quickly.
But there was something very familiar to her attacker’s fighting style, and after a bit, she found herself almost anticipating the blows.
Tazla managed to use her attacker’s momentum to her advantage, landing a blow of her own and then using her elbow to get some separation.
That’s when she realized that she was facing herself.
A version of herself.
She felt an odd sensation overcome her once she saw her own, green eyes looking back at her. After the disturbing experiences of her fellow comrades encountering their alternate versions, she had held out hope to be able to be spared having to come face to face with her own doppelganger. It had not meant to be.
“I’ll give you that, you know how to fight,” the other Tazla said, between labored breaths as they began to circle each other in the cargo bay, allowing a momentary respite from their battle.
“As do you.”
“Tends to be useful in my line of work.”
“Which is what? Assassin?”
The other woman smiled. Tazla could see that she was wearing her red hair extremely short, not a style she had ever sported herself. More startling perhaps were the scars on her face. One, running almost horizontally along her chin, was most chilling since she recognized it well. She had been cut there herself many years prior when she had gotten into an ill-conceived fight with an angry Nausicaan who had very nearly cut off her head with his razor-sharp blade. However, Tazla hadn’t kept that disfigurement long, opting for it to be surgically repaired.
“I do a lot of things.”
Tazla nodded. “Such as working for your master Altee and kidnap people from starships on his orders.”
She shrugged. “You do what you have to in order to survive. Judging by the way you handle yourself in a fight, you must know a thing or two about that,” she said and then, before Tazla could respond, rushed her again.
She hardly had time to prepare a counter as her alter ego came straight at her with a ferocity and speed she had not anticipated.
She barely dodged the first blow but was not fast enough to evade the second that struck her across her face and painfully split her lip.
This Star was nothing if not a ferocious fighter. She quickly followed up with a kick aimed at her midsection that Tazla only managed to avoid by jumping backward and deflecting it at the last second with her hands.
It pushed her off-balance and she began to stumble. Other Star was more than happy to press the advantage, grabbing hold of her head and slamming it into a cargo container.
Her head spinning from the impact, Tazla nevertheless managed to block the follow-up attack with a raised forearm before blasting the other woman with a punch of her own that stung her fist as her knuckles made contact with hard skull bone.
Other Star fought dirty, grabbing hold of Tazla’s ponytail and yanking her head harshly backward before slamming it once more into the container. Between the aching pain, she darkly mused how this kind of fighting style, taking advantage of any weakness, wasn’t all so different from how she had once handled herself. It had been a tactic she had learned from a man who had bested her in a fight in just such a manner. ‘The only unfair fight is the one you lose’, had been his motto, and apparently her doppelganger prescribed to that same theory.
She had no time to ponder this further as her opponent was clearly looking to finish this fight and Tazla spotted the incoming fist aimed at her head from the corner of her eye.
She jerked back just in time to avoid the blow, the fist instead slamming into the container just centimeters from her face, and with such force, it went right through the plastisteel shell.
Tazla’s eyes opened wide as she briefly considered the other woman who had no intention of holding back from trying to smash her face.
She grinned. “Yes, I have a few upgrades. Jealous?”
Even while she retracted her left arm still buried inside the container up to her wrist, she brought up her right arm, this time aiming for Tazla’s exposed neck.
She spotted the metallic glint shooting out from below her opponent’s wrist and immediately knew what she was dealing with.
She brought up her right hand to intercept the spring blade, the razor-sharp knife slicing into her palm.
Tazla felt no pain. Instead, the blade broke after it had penetrated the outer layers of the artificial skin grafted over her cybernetic duranium appendage.
Her double looked down with surprise at seeing the blade harmlessly drop to the deck.
“Not really,” Tazla said. “I know some tricks, too.” With that she used her enhanced arm to strike the woman in her side, guessing correctly that she too carried a symbiont there, feeling momentarily sickened by the other Tazla’s explosion of pain by being struck in her weakest point.
Truth was, she had never enjoyed fighting dirty, and remembering how vulnerable a Trill was in that part of their body, she had done her best to lessen the impact of her fist. But it had been enough to cause her to double over as she winced in pain.
Tazla followed up the blow with a strike to her face, causing her double to stumble back and hit the deck.
By now the cargo bay was spinning so quickly, Tazla was unable to stay on her feet herself and she slid down along the container behind her until her backside hit the floor, fairly certain that she was suffering from a concussion from the repeated hits to her head.
At least her opponent didn’t appear to be in a state to carry on the fight either. She managed to slowly push herself back up onto her elbows and then dragged herself across the floor to sit up against a storage canister until the two women sat opposite from each other.
“Maybe we call it a draw,” Tazla said.
Her counterpart nodded slowly before spitting out a thick wad of blood onto the deck.
“Where is Captain Owens?”
Star laughed through blood-stained teeth.
“Did I make a joke?”
The other Trill shot her double across the deck a hard stare. “Now, why would you be worried about that sorry excuse of a man?”
“Last time I met him he had murderous rage in his eyes. Rage aimed squarely at you and he didn’t exactly make a distinction between the two of us. So, excuse me if I’m worried about him lingering in the shadows, painting a target on my back.”
Star spat more blood and shook her head. “Don’t worry about Owens.”
“You killed him?”
She considered her again. “I’m starting to think that perhaps there is more to your curiosity. Tell me, did your Captain Owens send you here to find him?”
Tazla didn’t reply.
“He did, didn’t he? Because that would be perfectly in line with the naïve manner you and the people in your universe think,” she said as she slowly attempted to get back onto her feet.
Tazla followed suit, not comfortable showing any weakness in front of the woman who had attempted to violently end her moments earlier, even if the cargo bay around her had still refused to settle down. “What do you know about my universe?”
“More than you think,” she said and then fell back to the deck when the ship trembled hard, worse than it had before, clearly a sign of her impending doom.
Tazla struggled to keep her balance as well but managed barely by holding on to the cargo container behind her. “Your ship is lost. We need to get out of here.”
“That’s one thing we can agree on.”
She slowly made her way over to her doppelganger and then extended her hand while indicating toward the cargo transporter at the other end of the bay. “I can beam us over to my ship.”
She glared at her and then finally managed to stand without taking the proffered hand. “I think I pass on that, thank you very much.”
“We don’t exactly have a lot of options here,” Tazla said.
“I have no interest in joining your merry band of do-gooders,” she said as she headed for the transporter console.
“You could do a lot worse. Working for Altee, doing his dirty work. I’ve been down that path and trust me, it can lead you nowhere but to doom and regret. “
Star laughed again, a throaty, nearly maniacal laugh that felt cold and unpleasant. “So what? You propose I go back to your universe where everybody gets along and wears flowers in their hair?”
She chose to ignore the sarcasm. “A person with your talents and experiences would be in high demand in my universe,” she said and took another step forward. “And no, I’m not talking about scheming, kidnapping, and assassinations. I know you are resourceful and smart. Cleary a gifted fighter and composed under pressure.”
“Are you describing me or yourself?”
Tazla had no idea why she was pushing this so hard. Perhaps since she had already lost Owens, the man she had been sent here to bring back, she considered the other Star as the next best thing, the consolation price as it were. Or maybe it went much deeper than that. Perhaps she saw in this Tazla Star a lot of herself that went beyond the superficial. She liked to think that she had successfully managed to change her life, even if it had been too late to prevent it from spinning out of control first. But if she had been able to redeem herself, perhaps there was a chance for this other Tazla Star as well. And perhaps before she made the same terrible choices she had once made. “If you are anything like me, then you have spent countless hours during sleepless nights thinking about your life choices and pondering if you truly are on the right path. You’ve asked yourself if there isn’t more to life you could be doing by making a positive difference for others rather than to further the agendas of a self-serving sociopath. Well, maybe this is your chance, right here. Maybe all it takes is for you to take the first step.”
The other Trill’s emerald eyes stared back into Tazla’s without uttering a word and she knew that she had been more right than wrong. They were not so dissimilar to each other at all and this thought gave her comfort. It gave her comfort and it scared her at the same time.
But the moment of reflection wasn’t meant to last. “It’s a nice thought. Real tempting actually. But it would never work.”
“How do you know if you don’t give it a chance?”
“Because even Tazla Star can’t change the laws of physics. Not in this universe or any other,” she said and turned back towards the transporter station and the ship around them was beginning to shudder and shake at much stronger and regular intervals. “I’m taking my chances on Telron XI. It’s class F but has a marginally breathable atmosphere.”
“What do you mean by changing the laws of physics?”
“Let’s just say my survival chances are better on that molten piece of rock.”
“How do you know?”
She shot her a grin over her shoulder. “Altee developed a transporter. Well, actually he had me steal it from Matthew Owens and Westren Frobisher. Not one of my proudest moments.”
“That’s when you killed his brother.”
She nodded as she continued to program the transporter. “As I said, things didn’t exactly go to plan. But that transporter turned out to be very useful.”
Star finished and headed for the transporter pad, but had paused as she was nearly swept off her feet by a mighty heave gripping the ship caught in its death throes. Tazla thought she could hear the hull buckle under the increasing gravitational pressure. A starship going down inside a planetary gravity well was a nasty business and one she was unfortunately not unfamiliar with. It was very much an experience she did not wish to relive. And yet, she couldn’t quite get herself to follow. Not yet. “How exactly did Altee use this transporter?”
Star was about to respond when she was blasted by a phaser beam which struck her hard in her left shoulder. The force of the impact slung her to the floor where she slid along the smooth deck.
Tazla whirled around to see a dark figure emerge from the shadows of the cargo bay.
“I would have thought that a seasoned killer like you would know the first rule about taking down your enemy. Don’t ever leave them for dead until you’ve made sure,” Michael Owens said. He was holding a large, compression-style phaser rifle but Tazla was instead drawn to the man’s face. Half of it seemed to have burned recently, leaving behind a terribly mangled mess of scorched and melted skin, so bad that bone was clearly visible underneath. Half his hair had burned away and his uniform was a smoldering ruin and hardly recognizable. In short, he looked as if he had been exposed to burning plasma and looked more like a zombie having come back from the dead than a living and breathing person. She had no earthly idea how he was still able to function at all in that condition.
“And look at this, I get two of you for the price of one,” he said when his one good eye--the other one appeared to be missing altogether--caught sight of Tazla as well. He whipped his rifle around to take aim and fired.
Tazla jumped at the last second, feeling the heat of the blast singe her side and tearing through layers of clothes but otherwise missing her by a hair length.
She executed a roll and came up running, desperately looking for her weapon she had lost earlier.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Owens fire at her again and she leaped forward and through the air.
The blast missed her once more and instead struck a canister containing a highly volatile mixture that exploded instantly. The resulting shockwave caught her even while she was still in midair and pushed her hard across the bay and into a row of barrels that mercifully softened her landing somewhat.
The ensuing fire from the explosion rapidly filled the cargo bay with thick dark smoke and with the ship already falling apart, fire suppression was out of the picture.
In fact, the explosion seemed to have sped up the vessel tearing itself apart, and not a moment after Tazla had met the deck, she had to roll away to avoid being struck by falling debris.
Her body groaned in pain all over but she understood that there was no time to lick her wounds. Not if she wanted to get out of this alive.
She could see a single shape moving through the smoke, heading right for the console. Owens wasn’t wasting any time and activated the transporter and not a moment later she could hear rather than see him dematerializing.
Tazla struggled to her feet, dodging more debris she found her way to the transporter console as well. It was already fluctuating as power was beginning to fail but she could see that it had beamed two people onto the surface of the planet. She knew the prudent thing to do was to reprogram the transporter and try to beam back onto Eagle.
When she spotted the ceiling literally coming down to crush her, she realized she had no time to do this, she simply reactivated the last cycle and then leaped for the transporter platform. The beam caught her in midair and before she had made contact with the pad.