The woman who looked like Tasha moved toward me, and I kept my suddenly heavy blaster leveled on her chest. She hesitated, smile slipping from her face. I wondered if Antov made it to his gun first and I was dead.
“Laka, are you going to shoot me?”
It sounded like her. It had to be her, but I knew it couldn’t be. Neurons fired at a frantic pace, trying to make what I was seeing match the reality I knew. But I couldn’t quite put the pieces together.
I managed a weak, “who are you?”
“It’s me, Tasha. What is wrong with you? Did he hit you on the head?”
“Tasha is dead.” Saying it out loud helped solidify realty. She was dead. The memory of holding her cool body and closing her eyes sprang vividly to the front of my mind.
“Laka we don’t have time for this. The sensors will see him and the police will come,” she said, an edge of tension slipping into her voice.
She stepped toward me and I found the strength to point the gun with some conviction. She hesitated again; a flash of irritation was quickly replaced with a smile.
“Of course I’m not dead Lakasha, I explained everything to you, “she said, now not holding back her frustration. “I went to my clone. Isn’t that why you are here? To save me? It took you long enough.”
My confidence was fading. She sounded like Tasha, and moved like her. A locked away part of myself start to wake from its month long sleep. It wanted it to be true.
“Tasha was shot and killed on a station. There is no coming back from that,” I said, confidence slipping from my voice.
“Lakasha I told you when you came to null sec about my research. The implant, it worked! It was fast enough to scan my brain and send the information to the clone receivers.” Excitement filled her voice as she talked about the implant. If it wasn’t Tasha, someone had figured out how to mimic her exactly.
She had told me about her research on the station. She spent hours dragging me from one lab to the next showing me everything. I understood that she had done something to make implants faster. She never mentioned anything about an implant to make cloning possible outside of a pod. I would have remembered that. That was Tasha though, always speaking in big scientific terms in and expecting me to follow along.
I let my gun, suddenly very heavy, drop to my side. She quickly stepped around me to check on Antov. After she bent over to check his pulse she stood and kicked him a couple of times. Then she grabbed a bag and frantically started running around the room packing.
I walked to the couch and let gravity pull me down. If it had been a black hole I would’ve let it consume me instead of facing the storm of thoughts and emotions that were overtaking me. My mind and soul had been void for over a month. Every emotion I ever felt came flooding back in and it seemed like my capacity to hold them had shrunk.
It felt like the room was collapsing on me as I set there watching her buzz frantically around the room. I tried to calm my breath before I hyperventilated or passed out. My life since Aikantoh was a flurry of rage and blood. I had become a monster. I was pushed beyond the edge of my humanity all for woman that was supposed to be dead and was standing in front of me now.
“Okay, I have everything. We need to get out of here and get to Reche III before anyone figures out what happened. Antov wasn’t working alone and…”
It took a second to understand what she was saying, “Why would we go to Reche station?”
She gave me that silly Lakasha smile, and for some reason it pissed me off for the first time in my life. I felt anger shoot to my core. I used its energy to shake off the confusion and focus on her. She seemed to recognize I was pissed but continued anyway.
“Peter Crane is there. He’s my research partner. He made the thing you thought was a blue neon light in my room. It’s the signal booster for the implants. One or two in a city is enough to grab the data from the implant at the exact moment of death and sling it to the clone repeaters.”
My instincts told me she wasn’t telling the whole story. Either it was because she was naive enough to think it didn’t matter, or because she was manipulating me. I realized it wouldn’t be the first time for either.
“I contacted Peter as soon as I woke up in my clone. Geklov must have told Antov about the implant. He wanted it for himself. I’m not sure how Antov knew where my clone would wake up, but as soon as I made the call to Peter a couple of Antovs’ friends grabbed me. I am worried that Peter is in trouble.”
The story was plausible, but her stories always were. I felt a dull ache inside me. It was a miracle Tasha was standing in front of me. I wanted to believe her. A part of me wanted to have her back in my life and for everything to be ok. But warning signals were going off in my head like a target lock. For the first time that I could remember her words did not hold the weight they used to hold. I needed time to sort through everything.
She sighed and said, “Laka I knew you would be okay, that is why I called you in the first place. You are always okay. But Peter is just a scientist like me. He won't have a chance against anyone.”
That I believed. If this man had been pulled into the vortex that was Tasha Amira then I truly felt for him. More than once my life had changed drastically thanks to her. My mind franticly flashed through all the true pivot points in my life and she was always there.
I didn’t have the brain cells left to process the flood of emotions and thoughts that were raging in my mind. Part of my mind raged against the thick locks I had placed on my humanity. It wanted nothing more than to hug her and hide in the lies of the past. The part with its hope and love no longer held control, and I knew couldn’t let myself trust Tasha, yet. All I knew was for my sanity I had to keep moving.
I set my blaster on the couch. Without the scram chip I wouldn’t be able to carry it with me. The power on the chip, now sitting on top of Antov, should hold out long enough for us to get off the planet. As long as no one found his body and set off the alarms we would be fine. We had to get back to the station. From there, we would see if I was willing to help her anymore.
The sun had set and most of the commuter traffic had already left the planet for the day by the time we made it to the transport station. We bought tickets and found seats on the next shuttle. I picked a seat away from her, and spent the short ride trying to untangle the web of thoughts in my head. There was something in the back of my mind that I needed to clear a path to. Something important, but I couldn’t quite make it spring to the front of my thoughts.
Once we were on the station we quickly bought Tasha a shuttle and I jumped into a pod. It wasn’t until I plugged in that I knew I was going to follow her to Reche to help Peter. I wasn’t sure if I was going to help another poor soul who had found himself in trouble because of her, or if I was going to keep an eye on her.
I waited for her shuttle to launch then I followed. I initiated the launch and relaxed my control letting the pods data stream fill my mind. It was a welcome break, deadening the storm of emotions and thoughts flooding me. My mind was completely clear by the time the pod shot from the launch bay.
Only one thought rang though my mind; had Tasha been in the room behind me, or did she come in from outside?